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Friday, December 15, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

Council approves funding for study on housing discrimination

City Council is moving forward with plans for the region’s first fair housing assessment. The effort aims to shed light on issues of housing discrimination across Central Texas.

The federal Fair Housing Act was designed to protect people from discrimination when renting, buying or financing a home, but biased practices persist in cities across the U.S. Council members voted to take part in the regional housing assessment earlier this year; on Thursday they approved $250,000 in funding to hire a consulting firm to lead the effort.

Council Member Greg Casar said the city has to make tough decisions when it comes to addressing housing needs.

“We are stuck between two hard choices, oftentimes either putting affordable units in already segregated areas or not building them at all,” Casar said. “Neither of those are great choices, and obviously, we need places for people to live.”

Casar raised this issue last week, when Council voted in favor of two new affordable housing projects – both of them outside city limits. He noted the developments are in low- or moderate-opportunity areas, i.e., they have fewer economic opportunities than areas with good schools, jobs and other amenities.

“And so the real solution is to do an assessment of where we are putting these affordable housing projects and then figuring out how we can continue to build those units,” he said. “But (the city should) start building those units in different kinds of neighborhoods, so that no one specific neighborhood is walled off because of lack of affordability.”

The regional study is expected to look into that issue, as well as patterns of housing segregation and racially concentrated poverty. City staff has noted that patterns of discrimination don’t happen in a vacuum and can happen across jurisdictional boundaries.

Matthew Ramirez, a planner with the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, said the assessment could help create some uniformity in the patchwork of regulations across the region, as well as within city limits.

“We’re going to get a whole lot more data on what’s going on right now in the fair housing world for Austin. There’s a lot of different processes and a lot of different resolutions and things that have come out of Council that relate to fair housing and gentrification,” he said. “Staff is going to make sure that they all speak to each other.”

Council plans to use the assessment to come up with new policy initiatives that affect areas across the region for the next five years.

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

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

affordable housing: This general term refers to housing that is affordable to Austinites, with or without subsidy.

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

fair housing: Shorthand for a series of federal laws designed to, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, establish "policies that make sure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice."

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