City Manager Letter
2020 Year in Review

Photo of City Manager Spencer Cronk
Like most of us, I am looking forward to the end of 2020. It’s been a year. But looking back, I am continually inspired by the unwavering resilience of this community and our City of Austin employees. Austin has and continues to endure the effects of a worldwide pandemic that has challenged our economy, stressed our healthcare system, and fed off, if not deepened, historic disparities. While this year presented us with countless challenges, it also offered many opportunities to demonstrate our City at its best. Through all the turbulence, City of Austin employees continued serving our community when they needed us most. This year’s 2020 Year in Review highlights how we’ve collectively made progress on every one of our strategic priorities while battling a global pandemic.  
Before we were alerted to Austin’s first known COVID-19 case, City departments had already mobilized and begun working together to implement a massive response effort that remains operational today. For over 10 months the City has been in emergency operations mode, working with community and regional partners to monitor and slow the spread of COVID-19, distribute personal protective equipment, and provide basic necessities to Austinites through programs such as Eating Apart Together (EAT), which has served more than 500,000 meals to Austinites in need. Additionally, recognizing the financial uncertainty the pandemic posed to our local economy, the City moved quickly to establish the Austin Economic Recovery effort focused on distributing financial resources and offering recovery related services to help Austinites and businesses struggling to make ends meet. Thanks to the Austin City Council’s leadership, we identified, secured, and earmarked $449.9 million towards local recovery efforts. One of our most successful programs, the Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) Assistance Program, has helped cover the rent of more than 3,100 families struggling to stay in their homes due to the impact of COVID-19. 

If there is anything this public health crisis has shown us, it is that the risk of becoming homeless is just one job loss or major illness away, that food insecurity is real, and that we must continue working together to help our most vulnerable community members. During 2020, despite the pandemic, we made significant strides in identifying services, shelter, and long-term housing opportunities for those in need. As a result of hard work and innovation, our team and our community partners successfully moved 1,387 people into housing and out of homelessness.  

Even as we grappled with the effects of a global pandemic, we could not ignore the deaths of Michael Ramos and George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement, as well as the amplified calls to end disparities in how communities of color are treated when they interact with officers. We are at a pivotal moment in our history. The Austin City Council made reimagining public safety in our community a top priority, and we have embraced the call to improve the lives of all our residents while ensuring we remain one of the safest large cities in the country. 

While juggling these complex and multi-faceted challenges the City continued to provide the full range of high quality services our growing community has come to expect, picking up compost alongside trash and recycling, improving and expanding our green spaces, and — thanks to Austin Energy, which this year celebrated its 125th anniversary as Austin’s publicly owned utility — keeping the lights on. When the pandemic threatened the lifelong tradition of lighting the Zilker Tree, staff found a way to host the event online. 

Austin took an important step forward during 2020 to expand transit options for Austinites and visitors, when residents voted in favor of Project Connect. This bold, comprehensive transit plan, which includes a new rail system, a downtown transit tunnel, and an expanded bus system, will over the next several years profoundly change the way people get around Austin, giving our residents and visitors alternatives to avoid traffic congestion and improve their commutes.  

These efforts and accomplishments are only a few examples of everything we can be proud of this year. While 2020 may have tested us in many ways, as an organization and a community, we rose to the challenge. City employees, especially our public health care workers and first responders, stepped up repeatedly to answer the call and serve our community with unyielding dedication. I am proud of all we have accomplished, and I encourage you to reflect on the work that is highlighted in this report, and take pride in your own contributions toward making our community a better place.  

*Banner photo by Jason Alexander, Assistant to the City Manager