City may spend more than $100M to buy homes in floodplain

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin could decide to purchase more homes as a result of floods damaging and destroying hundreds of them in October.

The city initially came out with plans to buy 116 homes in the Onion Creek area. Now, they could purchase 142 more in the Onion Creek 25 year floodplain, 229 more in the 100 year floodplain, and also 72 homes in the Williamson Creek area,  if City Council approves a couple of items over the next two months.

A proposal from Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez, supported by State Sen. Judith Zaffirini and State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez’s office, wants the city to buy the 400 plus homes in Austin’s 25 and 100 year floodplains.

“Many folks are still in harm’s way,” said Martinez, “And the city should really dig deep and take a strong look at what it is we can do as a local government.”

Martinez says the entire buyout would happen in a two-step process. First, he wants the city to spend $30 million in certificates of obligation to buy the 142 homes in the 25 year floodplain. Second, he says an additional $78 million is needed to buy the 229 homes in the 100 year floodplain and the 72 homes in the Williamson Creek area that flooded. The $78 million would come from a monthly 75 cent increase in your utility bill.

“It’s 75 cents,” said Martinez. “It’s hundreds of people. It’s not a lot to ask. And in fact, it’s necessary to ask.”

The 75 cent fee would be seen on the drainage usage fund.

Rosa Villegas lives along Onion Creek Drive. Her home was flooded, but she is not part of the initial buyout plan.

“I’m pretty excited,” Villegas said, happy that she could soon have the option to be bought out. “It’s one of the things that a lot of people in my neighborhood have been really trying to get out there.”

But, Villegas says an offer doesn’t guarantee she’s going anywhere.

“Honestly, to tell you the truth, I think I would stay,” she said.

Tim Boss’s home is part of the buyout plan already. He says it’s time to move on. “The neighborhood, it’s like a ghost town now in this area.”

In fact, he’s planning to meet with city officials Friday to further discuss the buyout of his home.

“I’m going to be meeting with the city…with the liaisons they’ve appointed,” he said. “We’ll see what comes of it.”

City Council will vote on the utility bill rate change May 15. If they approve the increase, you’ll see it first on your bill this fall when the new budget goes into effect. It will come out to be about $9 more a year.

In March, the federal government approved nearly $12 million for the city and Travis County. Austin is also waiting on a $5 million grant from FEMA, which could come in June.

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