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.
Zo Qadri – City Council District 9
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?
COVID-19 exacerbated what were already felt disparities in healthcare access across marginalized and underserved demographics, while elevating a deep need for community engagement, investment in connectedness. Not only were our scenario planning and public services put to the test as a city, but also our ability to protect and care for one another as neighbors, friends, strangers, or family members. As a city, our reactiveness and inequitable distribution and servicing of health care deserts and communities of color showed places of improvement that I hope to lead on and learn from as we use this opportunity to expand year round community health investment that is not contingent on a global pandemic. Moreover, the pandemic also shined light on the felt impact of healthcare accessibility on all other parts of our lives, whether our work and job stability, housing options or affordability – many stories of individuals struggling to find health conscious roommates or be able to work without access to sufficient healthcare are problems endured by disadvantaged communities outside of the pandemic but more broadly exposed once they impacted traditionally privileged people. We must ensure that Austin works for everyone, and that means learning from the pandemic to build sustainable, intentional, and equitable community healthcare into our city’s budget and priorities.
How will you work with City leadership to provide a housing plan for unhoused residents?
There are a number of ways our city can improve our housing-first and care-centered approach to servicing our unhoused neighbors and making sure that our city policies work for the people they’re meant to help. First, our platform priority of ensuring abundant and affordable housing is critical because we need to reimagine our approach to homelessness by including those experiencing cyclical or cystic housing insecurity due to the lack of affordable housing, economic instability, and often a lack of healthcare to prevent mental health crises from needing long term help or permanent supportive housing. Addressing the underlying causes of housing insecurity requires intervening earlier in the process but ultimately proves more effective as city policy. Second, we must look at successful examples of cities that have effectively and efficiently assisted our unhoused neighbors using empathetic housing-first solutions. Housing is a human right, and not only must we ensure missing-middle and income inclusive housing exists for people to not fall into cyclical homelessness, but also increase our partnership with successful organizations like Caritas or ARCH who service unhoused neighbors already through housing, healthcare, and life/skill development assistance.
How will you work with City leadership to support marginalized communities in Austin?
Currently, our city’s boards and commissions – who provide policy direction and advice for city council members – are not representative of those most impacted by the policies passed from the dais. We need to make sure there are equity and diversity standards for city appointments to close those representational gaps. Additionally, we can improve other internal democracy and good-government reforms to the city so that equity for marginalized communities is ensured through better representation including improving voting rights expansion, closing loopholes of self-financing in our campaign finance reforms, improving transparency in city contracts, and ensuring a living wage is paid to city employees, contractors, and staff. Finally, we must look at our budget as the moral document it is – reflecting on the values and priorities of our city government and ensuring those match the needs of our employers, the voters. This includes more investment in community healthcare, affordable housing developments, expand access to reproductive healthcare and existing abortion services, improving our relationship with undocumented and refugee communities in their access to city services, among many other priorities that are necessary especially as our state only increases hostility and persecution towards marginalized communities.
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?
Acting on our affordability and housing crisis must be a day one priority with the next council. We must expand affordability unlocked, eliminate exclusionary zoning, and ensure transit-oriented development is a priority. Our current land use rules were first passed in 1984. We’re a growing city, but Reagan-era policies are funneling the gains of that growth away from the people who made it possible.
Currently, Austin is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole by trying to build needed missing middle and infill housing necessary to addressing the affordability crisis, while running up against exclusionary zoning and a land-use development code. We need to make it legal to build more 4, 6, and 8-plexes, add properties on underused or vacant lots, and legalize a lot of the development and density that makes Hyde park the beautiful and historic neighborhood it is, but would now be illegal to build. Additionally, exhaustive permitting process currently makes it hard for builders and developers to break ground and start building, pushing the prices up through the delay and further exacerbating the crisis compounding the need for more housing, let alone more affordable housing.
We must ensure a future for Austin that is affordable and climate-resilient, so that our city can be a place that welcomes all and recognizes housing as a human right. It’s time to bring our land use rules in alignment with Imagine Austin, the Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint, and the Austin Climate Equity Plan by reforming the rules that keep housing unaffordable. In addition, we must be proactive about preventing displacement of and stopping homelessness at the source by fortifying our right-to-return and right-to-stay programs, expanding community land trusts, investing in housing vouchers for low-income residents, and ensuring the $300M in Project Connect anti-displacement funds gets spent on truly affordable housing. We must also expand the highly successful University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO) program to further expand student access to affordable housing, walkability near transit, and safe streets.
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?
Digital inclusion must be a more pronounced priority with the next council, especially as schools or public entities only increase their hybrid and digital worksites. Many recommendations have been made based on the Digital Assessment Survey and recommendations from community organizations like ATA who know what is needed through experience. I support calls for collaboration with other governmental entities and private companies to even the price of internet across our urban core but especially in gentrified or displaced communities of color. Moreover, I support expanding grants to all branches of the austin public library and austin public schools to improve technology and computers, while also investing in a public information campaign that increases awareness of these resources and locations of where a student, family member, or average Austin resident can access reliable technology and internet. Additionally, basic improvements in addressing the language barriers and service provision for Austin providers is necessary, whether in our public outreach, digital literacy training, or information on city resources – but also in reaching the more rural areas of the city. Finally, we can respond to calls from community advocates to expand our successful major initiative of grants for opportunities in technology, working with nonprofits that are already involved in digital inclusion work to support their work in bridging the divide.
What are your thoughts on the City of Austin using cryptocurrency (AustinCoin)?
While I support the expansion and modernization of tech industries, I would rely on advisement and community input on this matter along with other policy agendas and share concerns with experts that worry about the lack of successful modeling of “CryptoCities” and the unreliability or longterm unsustainability of a city cryptocurrency. While valid concerns about the city’s investment in arts and music or funding for “municipal governance and functions,” ring true, measures for public banking or other city incentive measures may be more proven. Finally, if our city wants to meet our carbon-neutral goals on track for our 2040 deadline in the passed Climate Equity Plan, investing more in what has shown to be a environmentally damaging industry would not align with that goal.
How can the City better work with Austin’s tech community to bring innovative approaches to civic challenges?
For one, improving our city and county’s local government partnership and investment in tech modernization for election systems and cybersecurity are necessary, especially as our state continues to execute damaging and disenfranchising changes to our election systems. This includes expanding our public information campaigns and digital investments on policy and elections issues, expanding civic technology when it comes to voter outreach for ballot curing, and data management within our voter file or regarding ballot certification via electronic voting machines. Moreover, the relationship between tech and civic engagement extends beyond just ballot access and election protection – investment in digital literacy and civic literacy campaigns must be intentionally reflected in our city budget and plans from the next council, and in them the assurance of equitable outreach for all parts and demographics in Austin.
For more information visit www.zoforaustin.com