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City breaks ground on Anderson Development housing units

Thursday, January 17, 2013 by Kimberly Reeves

The city broke ground on two-dozen units of affordable housing on East 12th Street in East Austin on Wednesday, a testament to ongoing efforts of the Anderson Community Development Corp. to find its way back to being a viable, substantial force in the East Austin community.


The tale of Anderson CDC is one of the most striking, and telling, in the annals of Austin history. It’s the tale of the city’s redlining neglect, community cross-racial strife, failed economic endeavors and – community members now hope – some attempt to both preserve East Austin’s history and promote affordable housing.


“The vision is ever bolder, ever wider, all compassing,” said Freddie Dixon, who was in the crosshairs of early redevelopment efforts. “Our vision is for a whole new era of affordability on the East Side.”


Scott Lyles, a one-time employee of the Austin Revitalization Authority and current executive director of Anderson CDC, wants to emphasize the positive in Wednesday’s groundbreaking: after a decade of effort, construction now moves forward on East 12th Street; a reinvigorated partnership has been created with the city; and new leadership at Anderson CDC, led by board chair Sheldy Starkes, now sees affordable housing as attainable in East Austin.


“Anderson CDC has projects and plans to execute,” Lyles said after Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony. “We see the larger community, and the development that didn’t occur. We can recognize that history, and we can look at it, and we can move forward from it with new development.”


A decade ago, Anderson CDC returned five-dozen properties it purchased with federal dollars to the city. And the city, in return, agreed to turn over a renovated Connolly-Yearwood House and two-dozen affordable units for management. The time line for that transaction was 2002. It now looks more like 2013.


Lyles wants to be upbeat, but it’s impossible to talk about East Side affordable housing, and how to maintain it, without a nod to the past. As recently as the early 1970s, the East Side was a place so segregated from the rest of Austin that it took then-Congressman Jake Pickle securing federal block grant dollars to pave streets and add streetlights comparable to the rest of Austin in those neighborhoods east of Interstate 35.


Dixon, who once faced indictment over his allegedly conflicted role in East Side redevelopment, has nothing to lose in telling a story of struggle and neglect and what he perceives to be the city’s continuing failure to address community needs.


“Though the city has been a great advocate, it also has been a great hindrance,” Dixon noted. “You look at the breakdown of the SCIP, the city not being as neutral as it should have been as it relates to community organizations and the fact the city moved so slow on the dreams we had for East 11th Street.”


SCIP would be the Scattered Cooperative Infill Program. The first phase produced 35 modest homes in Blackshear. Anderson CDC was unable to deliver on SCIP II, 100 single-family homes in a development known as Anderson Hill. The CDC’s properties were returned to the city for development.


Opposing sides can argue over whether the city has paid its pound of flesh on East Side failures in subsequent decades. A city board and various groups exist to cure that ill. The problem the East Side faces now, however, is gentrification, which Dixon attributes to Austinites who bought up East Side properties during the ‘80s downturn. Those same properties are now valued at prices so high they are pushing long-time Austinites out of the East Side.


Anderson CDC’s past administration – the current board likes to emphasize it is past and not new – had to return dozens of properties to the city after an inability to get a single-family housing project off the ground. Some, like Dixon, considered the city to be at cross-purposes with local residents, buying up property for redevelopment, while failing to deliver on affordable housing goals.


The Austin Revitalization’s Authority’s redevelopment of East 11th Street, however, is done. Today, Lyles and Anderson CDC have the goal of affordable housing. Others in the community, like Dixon, have turned their attentions to preserving the East Side’s historic fabric.


Lyles describes it as the three-pronged stool described by then-Council Member Eric Mitchell: Anderson CDC will concentrate on affordable housing. Groups like the Austin Revitalization Authority will focus on economic development. And Dixon and his group will focus on the preservation of East Austin history under the newly created African American Cultural District.

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