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Study could shed more light on housing discrimination in Central Texas

Thursday, June 15, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

The federal Fair Housing Act aims to protect people from discrimination when renting, buying or financing a home. Despite those protections, the reality is that housing discrimination persists in many cities, and today City Council will consider a review of how fair housing practices measure up in Austin – and across Central Texas.

If approved, the regional review would be the first time the Austin-Round Rock metro area gets a comprehensive look at this issue across the entire region. Matthew Ramirez is with Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department.

“This assessment is going to lay out, ‘These are your fair housing issues. Here are some actions that you can take,’” Ramirez said. “And that’s the more important part, I think.”

The program would assess four specific issues:

  • patterns of integration and segregation
  • racially concentrated areas of poverty
  • disproportionate access to opportunity
  • disproportionate housing needs

Ramirez said the findings would inform policy decisions for the next five years.

“It comes down to access to opportunity because we know it’s not just about housing,” he said. “All these systems work together.”

The Housing Authority of Travis County is one of the 11 entities that would take part in the proposed assessment. The group’s Executive Director and CEO Patrick Howard said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is encouraging more cities to work together, and he argued that encouragement is for good reason.

“I mean, when you think about it, fair housing issues certainly cross jurisdictional boundaries,” Howard said. “It’s not as if something that may occur in Round Rock or Georgetown is not likely to occur in Austin.”

Howard wants to ensure that fair housing goals are more consistent. For example, Travis County and Austin face challenges in both getting landlords to accept housing vouchers and getting approval to build affordable developments. But the county and city don’t always face the same challenges, he said.

“I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of gentrification going on within the city proper,” he said. “Areas outside of the city don’t typically have as much of an issue related to gentrification, because most of those areas are less developed and less concentrated.”

Ramirez also pointed to the ongoing overhaul of Austin’s Land Development Code, known as CodeNEXT. He said that process gives the city a chance to bolster fair housing practices with policy.

“Our Land Development Code is outdated, and a lot of the outcomes of that are disproportionate outcomes for minority and low-income communities,” Ramirez said.

Council members are set to vote on the measure at their meeting today. If approved, the goal is to bring on a consultant for the project by the end of this year.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo: The Easton Park affordable housing development in Southeast Austin by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT.

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