By Ryan Nill, ACBA Advocacy Chair and Beth Aavang Advocacy Committee Member
ACBA is pleased to announce two major updates on local policy related to business co-ops. The City of Austin is revising its business incentive policies to focus more on community needs. These include targeting support to small businesses, local businesses, art and music spaces, and businesses providing major community benefits. ACBA and co-op members participated in community stakeholder meetings and sessions with city staff to make sure worker and consumer co-ops were included in these discussions. Thanks to advocacy from the co-op community and the leadership of co-op allies on City Council, a strong policy was passed on Thursday August 30th, that includes co-ops as targets for incentives, grants, and affordable commercial rent programs. Councilmember Greg Casar also championed an amendment that awards cooperatives additional “points” for consideration for tax incentives and other supports. We encourage co-op supporters to contact Casar’s office and thank him for supporting the growth of Austin co-op economy.
The Advocacy Committee has continued organizing to have co-op technical service and education included in the 2018-2019 City budget. ACBA has long advocated for this, with endorsements from the City’s Economic Prosperity Commission and the Small Business Division, which recommended $75,000 for co-op education, business outreach, and technical support. The Committee organized emails to City Council offices from member businesses, and speakers to attend the budget hearings. City Council will decide on the final budget between September 11th-13th. Please take a moment to contact your city council member and ask them to support co-ops in the new budget!
ACBA also thanks all of the co-op supporters who came out to lobby for housing co-ops during the CodeNEXT process! While the mammoth six-year, $8.5 million effort to rewrite of the land development code was ultimately scrapped last month, progress was still made for the co-operative community:
· Prior to CodeNEXT, housing co-ops were only known in niche circles. After your advocacy efforts, every council member and land use commissioner is familiar with them. We will be able to leverage these relationships going forward!
· The contention over CodeNEXT largely boiled down to a debate over residential density vs. the preservation of existing neighborhoods. Advocated argued that co-ops preserve affordable existing structures, while instilling a community-based approach to density.
· Advocates also showed that density coupled with a co-operative model creates some of the most impressive housing affordability in the city, averaging 40-60% the cost of comparable market rates.
· While a single, massive overhaul of the land development code proved infeasible at this time, piecemeal reform is still possible. Through the CodeNEXT process, different features were identified that would help & hinder co-ops within the land development code and incentive programs and can use this knowledge in future Council initiatives.
Improving a city’s infrastructure takes time and is often achieved through incremental victories. We look forward to working together to continue paving the way for co-ops going forward! Follow the ACBA for updates or contact us if you are interested in joining our Advocacy Committee. Thanks again for all of your support!