AUSTIN (KXAN) — Despite being initially outspoken against the City of Austin’s $350 million affordable housing bond on the November ballot, Save Austin Now has not put substantive effort into campaigning or fundraising against the proposal.

Cofounder Matt Mackowiak said the group isn’t “necessarily against the affordable housing bond in isolation,” but also said without reforming the systems in Austin that make building and buying affordable housing easier, the bond money will go to waste. That’s why, Mackowiak explained, the group has leaned towards endorsing city council candidates they believe are going to do that work.

“When you lead an organization one of the challenges you sometimes face is if you get involved in everything you’re not going to be as effective as if you just pick a couple things and do them really well,” Mackowiak said.

Save Austin Now entered the political scene a little over two years ago. It notably brought forward the petition that put Austin’s camping ban, which passed, on the ballot in the May 2021 election. Since, it has been critical of city policies that impact public safety and affordability, among other issues.

Brian Smith, a St. Edward’s University professor of political sciences, said unlike the May 2021 election, this one is likely to draw more voters because it’s a midterm election, meaning PAC money for bond issues may have less impact. Additionally, “the City of Austin seems to win more bond elections than they lose,” he said.

“You don’t throw money away in politics,” Smith said simply.

Austin’s affordable housing bond will appear as City of Austin Proposition A on voters’ ballots this November. If passed, it would free up hundreds of millions of dollars for the city to build, buy and improve affordable housing units for low and “moderate” income people, according to the ballot language.

“We’re hemorrhaging people. We’re just losing a lot of the diversity that makes this city special,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said when the bond was being discussed earlier this year. “One of the most successful proven tools we have in this city is affordable housing and affordable housing bonds.” 

The project would be funded by general obligation bonds, which are repaid through your property taxes. According to a City of Austin document, someone with a taxable property value of $500,000 would pay an extra $66 annually for the next 20 years. The anticipated financial impact can be seen below:

Anticipated tax bill impact when tax rate is fully implemented if City of Austin passes affordable housing bond proposition (Courtesy: City of Austin)

While Save Austin Now isn’t campaigning against the bond, the group is starting to reveal who it backs for city leadership. SAN has so far endorsed Richard Smith for Austin City Council District 8, Greg Smith for District 9 and Clinton Rarey for District 1. More endorsements could come later.

“In the three districts where we have felt confident endorsing candidates, we’ve now done that,” Mackowiak said. He said they followed forums, interviewed candidates, went through their social media and sent questionnaires to get to those endorsements.

“While we will not always agree on everything, I value the input and support of those that are willing to stand up and make change,” said Greg Smith, in part. “An elected leader should represent all perspectives and not just those that they agree with. I am honored to have the support of Save Austin Now for exactly that reason.”

Brian Smith said while turnout isn’t likely to match what we might see in a presidential election year, heated statewide midterm races are likely to draw Austin voters to the polls.

“The big level elections — the governor’s race, the attorney general’s race, lieutenant governor — those three big races, that’s going to drive turnout in Texas. And because of that, it means we’re going to have higher turnout for city council and mayor,” he said.

Early voting starts Oct. 24. The deadline to register to vote for this election has passed.