Candidate questionnaire: Natasha Harper-Madison – City Council District 1

Candidate questionnaire: Natasha Harper-Madison – City Council District 1

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.

Natasha Harper-Madison – City Council District 1

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 shined an important light on the income inequality gap and the financial impact disproportionately punished working and lower income families more so than those that could afford to work from home without a disruption in income. I am honored to serve as the current representative for District 1 and during the pandemic, I fought hard to ensure that the eviction moratorium was extended to provide a better safety net for people worried about losing their homes. Moving forward, I will continue to help out the most marginalized members of our community by advocating for them and being their voice on the dais.

How will you work with City leadership to provide a housing plan for unhoused residents

We must work harder to address the root causes that lead to homelessness. Criminalizing vulnerable and marginalized members of our community does not fix the problem. Increasing access to affordable mental health care resources and substance abuse recovery programs is essential, but not every homeless person is mentally ill or a drug addict. Many unhoused people and families have just had a run of unfortunate luck and need a little bit of stability and help getting back on their feet. I will continue to work with city leadership to identify and recognize the variety of different circumstances that lead to homelessness. Only then we can begin to effectively address them. We must provide our unhoused with a safe and stable environment and do so in a manner that will help them to eventually get into homes and live independently again. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon issue. Many other cities around our nation are facing similar issues. But a common theme we have seen is that it is only in helping the unhoused address the issues that led to their homelessness – not in turning to punitive action – that we can find a solution that truly gets people off the street and sustainably into homes.

How will you work with City leadership to support marginalized communities in Austin?

I was born and raised on the east side of Austin and am the only candidate to have experienced what it is like to live unhoused in the city. I have over 20 family members in and around District 1 and am raising my children in this district too. I am intimately familiar with the challenges faced by the most marginalized members of our community and I will continue to fight to secure supportive measures like I did with the anti-displacement fund. I was able to ensure that marginalized members of our community were not disadvantaged by Project Connect by including a historic $300 million dollar anti-displacement fund. This fund will help create and preserve more affordable housing options along our new enhanced bus lines and railways. It will also provide rent and mortgage relief to lower income residents.

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?

The only effective solution to the issues of housing supply and pricing is increased housing supply. We need housing, housing, and more housing. We must work together to remove unnecessary impediments to growth, which includes eliminating unnecessary costs that get in the way of our growth potential. We can increase our housing supply partly by streamlining our building permitting processes and we also need to make sensible changes to our outdated Land Development Code. Our Land Development Code, as it stands today, is rooted in exclusionary policies that prevent growth at the rate that is needed to keep up with demand. To have a sustainable housing supply that serves the needs of our residents now and into the future, we must equitably increase the supply of both market-rate and affordable housing options and center this dense new growth along transit corridors and close to public transportation. For too long the city has held a car-oriented mindset and, as a result, we have lost out on optimizing livable space. When we increase our housing supply in an equitable and transit-oriented fashion, we will lower transportation costs, reduce carbon emissions, and increase the ability for more residents to own their own home.

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 must work to ensure that all members of our community have easy access to the Internet and have the ability to get plugged in online. Online access has become a utility and can be leveraged to help provide all kinds of support. It can increase job training, education, and employment opportunities. During the pandemic, many lower income families without easy or low-cost Internet access suffered and the digital divide widened. One of the main reasons I entered into local politics was to fight back against cyclical poverty and do all that I can to even the playing field after decades of inequality. This inequality continues in today’s world and I will continue to advocate for easy access to computers and the internet for lower income residents of Austin. We must also work to install more computers at community centers and bring these tools to people that would not otherwise have easy access to them.

What are your thoughts on the City of Austin using cryptocurrency (AustinCoin)?

Admittedly, there is much unknown on this form of currency relative to standard units that the city has always used. At the moment, I see too much volatility and uncertainty in this market to make an informed decision but I do feel it is worthy of consideration. I am open to the concept, but only if we perform proper due diligence in an open and democratic forum where the concept can be further discussed. The cost to benefit ratio should also be heavily considered before any implementation.

How can the City better work with Austin’s tech community to bring innovative approaches to civic challenges?

Technology has tremendous potential to increase efficiency, but often it is so frequently changing and progressing that it can be difficult to see which methods, tools, or programs will stick. More input from industry experts that have experience in both municipal and technological fields would be appropriate if we want to leverage the tremendous potential that can be unlocked using technology. I do feel that this is one area that Austin could lead the country with. We have such a high concentration of tech savvy individuals, companies, and knowledge in our community and I will always support increased interaction between municipal and tech-focused organizations.

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