AUSTIN, Texas -- With the announcement this week that District 1 incumbent Ora Houston will not seek a second term on the Austin City Council, the field of candidates vying for the seat grew to four.
The candidates include: Lewis Conway Jr., Vincent Harding, Natasha Harper-Madison and Mariana Salazar.
A 'true median income'
A lifelong East Austin resident, Conway said he wants to bring economic opportunity to the district. That includes attracting banks and credit unions, hospitals and urgent care centers, as well as a variety of grocery stores. Many parts of District 1 are considered food deserts, where healthy foods are inaccessibly by a short walk of homes; some have to commute several miles to find fresh produce.
Conway is also concerned the city's growing upper middle class, which he says is leaving everyone else behind.
"What is a true median income," he asked. "$80,000 is not a true median income."
The City Demographer has not published current data for Austin's 10 City Council Districts. In 2013, the median family income in District 1 was $42,510. The citywide median family income of $71,511 at the time, according to the 2013 American Community Survey, from which both sets of data were gathered.
Conway said his help crafting the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance sparked his interest in public office. That ordinance allows people like him with a felony record a better chance of getting a job. State law states Conway must receive a Governor's pardon or a judge's ruling to serve.
"Our purpose of running is not only to address that law, but to address the disparities of access to equal opportunity," Conway said. "There is a nebulous in the law that says someone with a background has to resolve the disabilities of their background. That does not make us ineligible; that makes us the first."
Providing for homeowners
Parts of East Austin have greatly transformed--even since District 1 was created four years ago. Today, it's commonplace to find 90-year-old bungalows from the city's era of segregation alongside tall modern townhouses.
Mariana Salazar says she hopes to find balance soon, perhaps by way of the city's Anti-Displacement Task Force.
"I am participating in their public hearings," she said. "It is something that I am excited about. I will be supporting more things, so that people can stay in their housing."
Salazar supports using Community Land Trusts, so families only pay taxes on their homes. The city or a nonprofit owns the land, so it is not taxed; the homeowner leases the land in return.
Another concern for this mother of two: a lack of parks and safe sidewalks. The Sidewalk Master Plan shows District 1 has the greatest need for sidewalks.
"Sometimes you feel like you are living in another city altogether," Salazar said.
Austin Transportation Department's 10-year target is to build 97 miles of new sidewalk in District 1. The plan's 2016 update brings a stark reminder the scope of the $1.64 billion sidewalk project.
"The 2016 budget for new sidewalk construction is $8,600,000, and at this funding level, full build-out would require 192 years," the report said.
The Master Plan's June 2016 update does not include $37.5 million dedicated to sidewalks from the voter-approved 2016 Mobility Bond Program.
Building citywide coalitions
Vincent Harding plans to use his experience leading the Travis County Democratic Party to build support citywide.
"We need someone with a proven ability to build coalitions citywide," he said.
Harding announced his candidacy Wednesday within two hours of Houston's announcement she would not seek a second term.
Harding said he was not sure if he supported Thursday's vote to increase the Homestead Exemption to 10 percent. He was also uncertain about how to address market rate housing affordability, but Harding said the city needs to do more to get subsidized units on the market now.
"Looking at public land that we already own and working with private businesses or nonprofits to provide those units," he said.
'Austin can be better'
Natasha Harper-Madison said she wants to bring a voice to City Hall for the parts of the community that have been most disenfranchised.
"We all need representation, but the populations of people who need representation the most are marginalized communities, are people of communities that are suffering that we, as a community, can mitigate together," she said.
Harper-Madison said she is keenly aware of the housing issues. A renter herself, she's watched housing prices for her neighborhood more than double in the past few years.
"I know that Austin can be better," Harper-Madison said.
In District 1 as of the 2013 survey, 29.2 percent had no health insurance and 27.6 percent lived in poverty. Those constituents, Harper-Madison said, are her first priority.
Candidates have until July 23 to file a ballot application for this year's Austin City Council Elections. In addition to the District 1 race Nov. 6, elections will be held for Mayor and Districts 3, 5, 8 and 9.