ATA issued a candidate questionnaire to all candidates running in the November 2022 general election. All questions were the same for Mayor, City Council, County Clerk and County Judge. Responses have not been edited. View all responses here.
Celia Israel – Mayoral candidate
As we head into the 4th year of Covid-19, what learnings have you taken from the pandemic and how will you apply those to your policies and community outreach moving forward?
The pandemic has shown us plainly the glaring inequities and vulnerabilities that our community faces when it comes to health care access and outcomes, economic opportunity, and digital access. With this in mind, I intend to center equity in the work of city council and ensure we are measuring the impact of our work and effectively closing the disparities and providing greater economic opportunity to more Austinites who are one financial body blow away from having to leave town. An economically vibrant city can only function if we have the workforce of teachers, nurses, and restaurant workers who are able to live and thrive in Austin, and this is exactly what drove me to run for office.
How will you work with City leadership to provide a housing plan for unhoused residents?
We must react with compassion as well as an understanding that we must tackle this problem holistically. Just as we must work to provide the transitional and permanent housing necessary for our current unhoused neighbors, we must also address the gap in necessary social services that help folks be successful in maintaining their housing. Austin is in serious need of more wraparound services, substance abuse treatment, and mental health support. We also need to improve our coordination with the county, as well as ensure that our very qualified and dedicated nonprofit partners have a greater voice in both short-term response and long-term planning. I would further support the work of experienced nonprofits like The Other Ones Foundation and Sunrise Navigation Center, and create an expedited permitting and response process for these partners in order for them to be successful. I also support moving the Homelessness Strategy Office out from its current operation within Austin Public Health, instead to directly operate under the city manager, which will help facilitate quicker action on all homelessness response strategies.
How will you work with City leadership to support marginalized communities in Austin?
I have dedicated my career to breaking down barriers and supporting all marginalized communities, and I will continue my commitment to this in the mayor’s office. The 2020 census showed us statistically what we already feared, that Austin is losing its African American and Hispanic share of the population. I believe that diversity is our strength, and as such, we are currently losing our strength as a city. While the 10-1 system has brought political power and representation to parts of Austin in new and exciting ways, we have a clear disparity of outcomes that vary widely depending on one’s zip code. I will bring a commitment to equity in our investment in these communities that have historically not seen the support necessary. In my run for mayor I am keeping all those who feel pushed out of this city – rather than invited in – front and center of my mind.
Homeowners and renters experienced enormous increases in Travis County Property Taxes in 2022. How will you address Austin’s ongoing housing shortage and displacement issues?
We must address the housing crisis we face today with urgency and conviction and allow for more housing of all types to be built in all parts of Austin. A limited supply of housing is at the core of Austin families being priced out and displaced – we must streamline processes, expand types of housing across Austin, and maximize the opportunity we have to use city-owned property for deeply affordable housing to alleviate these pressures. We can also provide greater investment in the city’s home repair program to prevent displacement and help provide opportunities for Austinites to age in place. Without more multi-family, “missing middle”, and mixed-use housing availability, we will continue to live in a city where the housing created is simply a teardown of an older single-family home in exchange for one new home, and we will continue to push Austinites further and further out from our city.
As our community continues to rely on virtual spaces, how should the City address the digital divide? What steps would you take to bridge that divide?
We have made very exciting inroads as a city in recent years with the availability of more virtual and remote public engagement, and the pandemic accelerated some of these necessary improvements. However, we have a continued challenge of addressing the digital divide in Austin and ensuring we are not furthering the inequities in any public engagement process as we place greater emphasis on online feedback.
First, we must invest in our broadband deserts and draw down state and federal funding opportunities to support this effort. We can also look to creative solutions like what AISD did during the pandemic, providing traveling wifi hotspots for students without internet access. We can look at opportunities to incorporate this work in our own city infrastructure, as well as look at opportunities to work with our other local governmental entities to strategically pool resources where possible to reduce our digital divide.
What are your thoughts on the City of Austin using cryptocurrency (AustinCoin)?
While I have concerns about the volatility of cryptocurrency compared to more traditional forms of financial investment when it comes to governmental use, I’m open to learning more and pursuing creative ways to generate new revenue streams for the benefit of Austinites.
How can the City better work with Austin’s tech community to bring innovative approaches to civic challenges?
I am a big believer in open, honest communication and stakeholder engagement. I have a reputation in the legislature for having an open door and an open mind, and I would personally welcome input from our innovative tech sector to be a partner in solving our city’s challenges.
For more information visit www.celiaforaustin.com