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.
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?
My appreciation for Austin’s tech community was reinforced even more by the expertise some contributed to help the city improve the online system for COVID vaccination appointments. The system was quickly overrun and not user friendly when first introduced, leading to huge community frustrations. That experience should teach us all both the importance of planning for disaster response and the equally important partnership with the Austin tech community.
The pandemic also starkly reminded all of us that public health and other disasters impact the most vulnerable in our community disproportionately. As Senior Policy Advisor in the District 5 office, I had the opportunity to take action to help older adults living in nursing facilities as well as the personal care attendants who provide services. I worked with the Dell Medical School and the City’s Public Health Department to identify ways to reduce the spread of COVID and deaths in nursing facilities.
I am very interested in hearing the Austin Tech Alliance’s recommendations for how the city can improve our technology capabilities. I will request that use cases and an assessment of our capabilities is included in our public health department’s report on COVID response.
- The city must be better prepared for pandemics, as well as climate emergencies, by improving emergency response procedures, community outreach, and preparedness. Partnering opportunities with the Austin tech community include things like developing:
- Data-sharing functionality across our EMS, public health, and utility systems to help identify people at risk for community outreach in emergencies
- More targeted interactive text messaging
- More widespread telehealth capabilities using smart phones
How will you work with City leadership to provide a housing plan for unhoused residents?
I will accelerate immediate shelter and permanent housing for unhoused people. As Council Senior Policy Advisor, I launched HEAL and helped The Other Ones Foundation expedite permitting for utilities at the Esperanza Community. HEAL offers immediate shelter and a path for permanent housing to people camping in dangerous places. The Esperanza Community is building tiny homes as shelter for 200 people on state land.
I will also work to change the city’s response to public space management. The city is not doing enough to address the impact on both housed and unhoused neighbors of the people who engage in unsafe, illegal, or threatening behaviors. I have direct experience working with neighbors, unhoused individuals, APD, and our Homeless Strategy Office to close encampments in District 5 that posed such threats.
City resources should be used to help our partner agencies prepare people for and match them to the appropriate permanent housing. The most effective options provide support services for the transition to permanent housing.
I will also help fund organizations focused on equity, like the Austin Area Urban League, and work with CapMetro on making bus passes easier to obtain, for both unhoused and lower income Austinites. I have led efforts to improve conditions for people living unsheltered, including hygiene stations, safe storage, and trash collection.
How will you work with City leadership to support marginalized communities in Austin?
I will continue my work to provide direct financial and services support for low-income and marginalized communities. I will also continue to work for policies that ensure affordability, transportation access including Project Connect, housing affordability, housing and services for unhoused people, good jobs and benefits, and public health. Please see my website at kencraigforcouncil.com for more information.
I will also support the Tech Alliance’s initiatives related to voting and elections, community engagement, and open government to help inform Austin communities and enable greater participation. I will push for full implementation of the recommendations from the Community Engagement Task Force Report in 2016. While some progress has been made, there is still much to be done to improve transparency.
One key recommendation – Make information clear, relevant and easily accessible – requires more work, which the Austin Tech Alliance could help with. Access to voting records, resolutions and directions passed, and backup information is not readily accessible for people unfamiliar with City Council processes. The city does not even have an easily understandable, centralized and searchable system for locating resolutions passed – and people must know which meeting to look for.
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?
There is no debate that Austinites need more affordable places to live in Austin. But the debate on how we do it has created battles across the city. I reject the business as usual “I win, you lose” politics that has characterized Austin for years. We should be able to build more affordable housing across the city while carefully preserving and improving existing neighborhoods and their streets, water quality, flooding control, and parks. I remain hopeful that most Austinites agree we must continue to support those most in need, work to reduce building costs, and strengthen planning to prepare and address our diminishing affordability and high growth. I list my ideas below.
Concern about housing affordability is a common concern across District 5. I have learned that effective solutions must also address existing housing and the market factors unique to each area. I also believe District 5 residents want places that make their lives easier with access to groceries, retail, restaurants, parks, green space, and other services including educational and cultural opportunities.
I have recent experience working as a Senior Policy Advisor for District 5 on several successful housing projects, including the following two examples:
- Zilker Neighborhood. One with the Zilker Neighborhood and the Austin Housing Authority to preserve and expand existing affordable housing at Goodrich Place. Zilker is a neighborhood with older, affordable multi-family housing properties in need of preservation because the market is quickly rebuilding much of the area with larger single family homes. At Goodrich, collaborative work resulted in 40 older units being replaced with 120 brand new apartments, all of which are affordable with rents based on the person’s income.
- Parkside Neighborhood. Another was in the Parkside neighborhood east of IH-35 . We worked to increase housing while also providing needed sidewalk improvements on a substandard road (Brandt Road) and dedicating approximately 18 acres as additional green space to a bordering preserve. This project added approximately 200 units of affordable housing, available to families making at or below 60% of the median family income (about $61,000 for a family of four).
Steps I will take to reduce housing costs and help Austinites buy or rent homes:
- Support Those Most in Need
- Support preservation of older, more affordable condominiums and apartments to discourage demolition and keep rental costs down
- Provide home repair, rental assistance and tenant protections to keep people in their homes
- Prioritize use of subsidies to lower rents for lowest income renters and homeowners
- Offer down payment assistance to help with purchase
- Reduce Building Costs
- Reduce building cost by expediting permitting, reducing fees for affordable housing, and ensuring city departments coordinate reviews better to save time and money
- Encourage smaller, more affordable housing types including ADUs, tiny homes, prefab housing, and 3-D printed homes
- Build more housing and retail on bus/rail corridors and reduce creating excess parking spaces
- Strengthen Planning
- Track and hold the city accountable for meeting affordable housing targets
- Limit the number of full time STRs which removes housing from the market
- Work harder for more affordable housing in large projects like PUDs
- Focus Land Development Code changes on those that preserve affordable housing, expand housing types, and reduce housing costs
- Use vacant city, county, state and school properties to build more affordable housing
- Use district level and eTOD planning to help identify land use, zoning, financing, and other tools to develop affordable housing.
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?
The city must take steps to ensure broadband access in the parts of our city without access.
I will continue to support ongoing efforts to bridge the divide to address the longstanding technological equity issues we face as a community and a region. The problem is deeper than just a lack of broadband as our city expands due to the lack of housing affordability. In a culturally competent manner, we must also address the basic affordability issues facing many for technology services and hardware whether it be internet access or more up to date phones, computers, and more.
What are your thoughts on the City of Austin using cryptocurrency (AustinCoin)?
I have serious concerns given the current instability in the crypto market about the suitability at this moment for use as municipal currency.
The City Council passed two resolutions – one focused on cryptocurrency and one focused on blockchain innovation in March of this year. In response to the Cryptocurrency Fact Finding Study, the city staff found cryptocurrency is not currently suitable for municipal uses in part because of security issues.
The city’s memo in response to the blockchain technologies resolution identified areas for potential applications in municipal government. As reported, staff will continue to monitor the blockchain and Web 3.0 space and create a supportive environment for its development in Austin. Staff will also continue to evaluate appropriate use cases and opportunities to deploy blockchain technologies in the City organization. I am interested in working with the Austin Tech Alliance on furthering these efforts.
How can the City better work with Austin’s tech community to bring innovative approaches to civic challenges?
- The City can continue working with the Austin Tech Alliance on initiatives such as the following:
Health information datasharing for use cases such as connecting the city’s EMS, AustinCARES 911 Call Center, and public health data to the HMIS online case management tool for unhoused individuals. Sharing health care and social services information can expedite individuals’ access to services and avoid duplication.
Continued assistance transitioning away from paper based systems
Community Engagement Task Force recommendations related to open government and easier access to digital information
Recommendations of the city’s Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission
For more info visit kencraigforcouncil.com