First review of request comes forward for housing initiative

Published 10:30 am Sunday, August 21, 2016

Just weeks after it was approved by the Austin Public Schools, Mower County and the Austin City Council, a resident has come forward to take advantage of the Austin Housing Initiative.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday during its regular scheduled meeting in the district conference room at Austin High School, the Austin Public Schools Board will hold the first public hearing for a resident to request utilizing the initiative, which is a tax abatement that give residents five years free of property taxes from the county, school district and city.

The three government agencies finalized the plan earlier this month. Austin officials have long sought ways to address a shortage of workforce housing, and Mayor Tom Stiehm formed an ad hoc housing committee to address the issue.

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Austin City Administrator Craig Clark has said that in four years, Austin will need another 300 rental units and 118 single family or townhouse units.

But 2015 only saw six new homes built in Austin with an average of 10 new homes each year over the last six years.

Proponents argue the abatement sacrifices five years of taxes as an incentive to boost the long-term tax capacity as the average homes stays on the tax rolls at least 40 to 50 years.

However, some have questioned the plan, arguing it pits new property against existing property. County Commissioners Jerry Reinartz and Tony Bennett voted against the plan in July, though it passed 3-2, with Reinartz arguing the plan unfairly backs new construction and does nothing to help landlords address blighted properties.

Bennett argued the abatement will make for a tax shift and will increase the burden on other taxpayers during the abatement years.

But the plan moved forward, and now public hearings will be required for residents and builders to take advantage of the abatement, which last for a three-year period through Dec. 31, 2019.

The board’s meeting begins at 4 p.m. Other business includes an overview the district communication plan and a closed session discussion of Superintendent David Krenz’s goals for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, which will be discussed at a later public meeting.