Vela ready to take action to create more housing in 2023


Photo by Jose “Chito” Vela for City Council

Friday, December 23, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council Member José “Chito” Vela has been hard at work since he was sworn in to the District 4 seat in February following his election in January. He’s been holding down two jobs, serving as a Council member and finishing up his work as an attorney. In mid-December, he had six cases to complete before stepping aside from court appearances.

Reacting to the Dec. 13 runoff results, Vela said he was excited about the new Council members, who seem to want to do “the right thing.” The right thing, from Vela’s perspective, is taking actions to create more housing, particularly affordable housing, for Austinites. He noted that, while he is currently one of the younger Council members, he will soon be one of the older Council members, “which is great.”

He expects the new Council to be in tune with him on the need for changes to city regulations that make it harder to build housing.

Vela told the Austin Monitor, “I don’t know if we can lower the price of housing in Austin … the first thing you have to do is stop the bleeding … ultimately make housing, broadly speaking, more affordable.” He wants to “at least make changes so that the city does not see the 10 percent a year price growth that we’ve been seeing.”

One tactic that would allow more housing to be built is lowering requirements for parking. Vela pointed to the way San Diego has successfully wiped out parking requirements: “The City Council unanimously approved the elimination of parking requirements for businesses located near mass transit or in small plazas near dense residential areas,” according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Another California city, San Jose, recently eliminated parking requirements for cars, but will require some businesses to provide parking spaces for bicycles. According to news reports, one of the reasons for ditching the requirement was the added cost to housing.

Vela said Austin’s compatibility requirements are “killing housing along the corridors,” so he was happy to provide an amendment to city code to eliminate compatibility for vertical mixed-use buildings. Ultimately, he said he was “not happy with the product,” because the change did not go far enough. He is hopeful that his new colleagues will help to make changes to those regulations.

He does not want to totally rewrite the Land Development Code, which he described as “like immigration law, too complex,” but, “with a piecemeal approach we can make some improvements that will bring down the cost of housing.”

Vela said he was proud of his work on the GRACE Act (Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone), which discourages Austin police from investigating reports about abortions. After reading news reports that Roe v. Wade, the landmark case making abortion legal in the U.S., would be overturned, he and other Council members knew it would be important for Austin to stand up for a woman’s right to choose.

The tremendous effort that staff and Council members put into crafting the ordinance paid off, not only for Austin but for other cities as well, he said. At least 37 other U.S. cities have taken Austin’s ordinance as a template for their own versions of the GRACE Act.

In 2023, Vela plans to focus on changes to Interstate 35 to see whether at least some of the highway can be buried as it goes through Austin. He wrote extensively about plans for improving TxDOT’s proposal on the City Council Message Board.

In addition, Vela said he would be focusing on making sure that Project Connect moves forward in a timely way.

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