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Austin’s Mayor-Elect calls City’s affordability issue an 'emergency'

Kirk Watson discusses day one priorities on Inside Texas Politics.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Mayor-Elect Kirk Watson has many issues to tackle in Texas’ capital city, but he says one must be addressed from the start.

“Our affordability issues in Austin, it’s an emergency. I don’t even use the word 'crisis.' It’s an emergency. And when you have an emergency, you need to react like it’s an emergency,” Watson said on Inside Texas Politics.

In addition to reducing some of the fees required to build new housing by at least 50%, Watson has also told us he wants a complete sunset commission review of the city’s Development Services Department, which ensures compliance with city codes and oversees many of the fees.

But he says he also wants to focus on another aspect of affordability impacting many families, the high cost of childcare, which he says is the second largest expense in many households, behind housing costs.

“And my intention on the very first day is to appoint a blue ribbon task force to report back in no more than 90 days on what we need to do to move forward, so that we make Austin the best city in America to raise a child,” the Mayor-Elect told us.

Watson recently won a narrow victory over state Rep. Celia Israel in the mayoral runoff. 

Israel actually beat Watson in Travis County by a scant 17 votes. But Watson won in Williamson County and Hays County, sending him to the Mayor’s office with an overall margin of victory of just under 900 votes.

And in a political quirk, Watson’s term will be shorter than usual, for two years instead of four. Austin voters approved a change last year to align mayoral elections with presidential elections. 

“It certainly aligns with my mentality, which is that we need to move with immediacy, we need to move with a sense of urgency,” said Watson.  “In my view, City Hall needs to be shaken up to make sure we’re focusing on basics in the way we should and that requires a level of immediacy to it.”

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