Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty is not in the business of telling Travis County residents what they should want or need. Instead, both on the dais and in conversation, the Precinct 3 commissioner, businessman and longtime Austin resident resists the allure of silver-bullet solutions, looking primarily to market-based answers to the complexities of our given moment.
During a recent interview with the Monitor, Daugherty reflected on the double-edged sword of the region’s growing economic prosperity and the delicate balance of providing for residents while preserving their freedom to live how they choose.
The region’s growth has led to a rising affordability crisis which Daugherty expects will only get worse. “For the first time in the 50 years that I’ve been here, I’m really, really concerned about Austin because from an affordability standpoint, it’s not here any longer,” he said.
Daugherty said the problem is particularly pronounced in western Travis County, where median household income is already well above the county average and there is strong community desire to maintain quality of life and protect green spaces from development. While the area’s abundant open spaces are part of its appeal, Daugherty said preservation efforts limit housing supply. “You have a lot of real estate that you can’t do anything with.”
When application for an affordable multifamily development near Lakeway came to the court for approval in November, the commissioner voiced firm support for the units, which will be affordable enough to house a number of families and individuals who currently work in the area but cannot afford to live nearby. Nonetheless, Daugherty said real estate, not government, is the key to solving the area’s lack of housing options on a larger scale.
Whether or not housing supply can keep up with rapidly increasing demand is a serious concern for the commissioner. “The euphoria that has come out in the last 48 hours about Apple’s intention (to open an Austin campus) … really frightens me because the first thing that does is it takes the rooftops, the very limited number of dwelling places … and raises that valuation even higher than what it is right now.”
As Daugherty does not believe in dramatic government solutions for regional housing scarcity, neither does he believe in them for transportation, which he says is the region’s greatest challenge. The commissioner has long fought for expanded road capacity to accommodate the region’s growth without nudging people out of their cars. “I am very much of the opinion that you have to accommodate more robustly where the majority of the people elect to be and to use, and the automobile in the United States of America is king,” he said.