Breaking News
More () »

'We're going to get through this week fine' | Austin mayor optimistic about COVID-19 numbers heading into SXSW

Mayor Steve Adler also addressed other hot topics in Austin right now, including Project Connect and the state of the housing market.

AUSTIN, Texas — It's a busy time in Austin. With South by Southwest 2022 (SXSW) ramping up, Project Connect updates taking shape and the housing market still struggling to keep up with the area's massive growth, it can be a lot to keep track of.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined KVUE Daybreak on Monday to discuss SXSW, Project Connect and other hot topics in the city right now. 

Below is an abridged transcript of the interview:

KVUE's Rob Evans: We recently dropped back down to Stage 2 [for the] first time in, I guess, almost a year. A lot of businesses [are] not requiring masks inside, but [the move to Stage 2 is] just in time for SXSW. Is there any concern, with so many people being so close, that this could affect our numbers and bring us back up into some of the higher stages?

Austin Mayor Steve Adler: "Well, you know, obviously, this is going to be a concern when you have tens of thousands of people coming from all over the world, in a lot of cities that aren't in as good a place as Austin is. We have to be cautious. But I tell you, everybody should feel real good about the discipline that we showed in getting down to Stage Level 2. [SXSW] had promised their people coming in weeks ago that they would continue to mask, and they're going to stick by what they had told people and we're going to support them here in the city. But, generally speaking, it's great to see the numbers coming back down and we're going to get through this week fine."

Evans: At a meeting last week, we learned a little bit more about Project Connect. Exciting – expensive and exciting. Talk about how the area – especially, you know, South Congress – in the planning, you know, where are we? How is it going to affect the neighborhoods that people are really excited about? You know, traveling, walking up and down South Congress, the parking there is going to be closing. Where are we in the planning?

Adler: "This is an important year for Project Connect. We have to make a lot of design decisions this year as a community. So, the CapMetro board and the council and the community advisory groups. Decisions about, you know, we're going to go underground downtown, but where do we surface? Where do we go underground? Does the tunnel downtown extend? How far down South Congress does it extend, north of MLK on Guadalupe? 

We have to make decisions about South Congress when it comes up. Do we change the parking in certain areas? Because we have a limited amount of width, so most of our roads will continue to operate the way they are in some places. We're going to not have parking [in] the way that we had it before or the lanes are going to get a little bit more narrow. But we have to design the bridge that goes across the river. Should that bridge just have the train and bicycles on it? Should it also have buses on it? 

A lot of design decisions need to be made. They're going to be a series of 10 public hearings, roughly, on each one of these important design considerations so that the neighborhoods and the community can all weigh in and give advice to the policymakers."

Evans: Talking about affordability, we've talked about, you know, the home prices skyrocketing. But now the rent prices [are as well]. We just had a study recently that [said] Austin was the second-highest increase in the nation behind Portland, Oregon. What about renters? What about the people coming in that can't afford a house and now they can't afford rentals? What's the next step to have affordable rental units?

Adler: "Well, clearly in our city, our existential challenge right now is moving toward housing and housing prices. It's important to note that Austin actually built more housing per capita last year than any city in the country, and even that wasn't enough. So, there's a lot of attention being put to try to increase the housing supply we have. The more housing supply we have, the better chance we have of holding prices or getting prices to go back down. So, we have to do everything we can to increase supply. That's what we're working on now. 

I wish we had been able to change the Land Development Code, but [it] doesn't look like that's going to happen while the case is in court. But we have to increase supply. We have to make it less expensive and faster for people to build. We have to increase opportunities for people to build where people want to live. We have to do things like making it allowable for people to live residentially in commercial corridors, maybe in a floor above the retail or the office uses. We have to increase housing supply in the city."

Evans: There's been a big drop in the number of homeless [individuals] on the streets. Any update on how the City is doing with the plan to house the homeless?

Adler: "Well, you know, this is a problem that we had for the longest period of time and never put resources against it. There's no simple answer, no short answer to homelessness in the city other than, again, building the housing that those folks need and providing the wraparound services. 

The summit plan that's happening right now is $500 million spent over three years. We've raised $400 of that $500 million. We're into the final stretches. When we do that and we're able to build out the entire system – emergency housing response all the way to the permanent supportive housing response – we'll get to net effective zero equilibrium in our city, and in the next several years, we'll be the first city our size in the country to do that. Real proud of the community. In fact, has seen this challenge, rallied around it and now is going to do what it takes to fix it. 

And we have a ways to go. We have we still have campsites in the city. You can still see them and it's going to take time. But over time, we're going to be able to house everybody."

KVUE on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Britny Eubank on social media: Twitter


Before You Leave, Check This Out