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Peoples Plan Rally

Human Rights Commission offers measured support to the People’s Plan

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

It’s no revelation that the Austin housing market is exploding and new developments are popping up almost as quickly as people are moving in. And out.

To help address the displacement and gentrification Austin is experiencing, at its Feb. 26 meeting, the Human Rights Commission reviewed the six resolutions/draft ordinances that make up the People’s Plan.

Although the commissioners were unable to recommend the plan unaltered and in its entirety to City Council, they hope to be able to have the language to communicate their support for the “spirit” of the plan to Council by the next meeting of the commission.

“This is moving forward with or without us,” explained Commissioner Kristian Caballero.

For months, the Human Rights Commission has been working with the creators of the People’s Plan, Susana Almanza of People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER) and Fred McGhee of Preserve Rosewood, to aid Council in adopting recommendations to stem the flow of lower-income residents leaving their homes.

Commission Chair Sareta Davis told the Austin Monitor that this is a paramount effort due to the rapidly changing demographics of the city. No matter where you fall on the economic scale, “housing is a human right,” she said.

David King, a former commissioner on the Zoning and Platting Commission and appointee to the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities warned the commissioners that they need to address the problem now. According to him, once CodeNEXT takes effect, “it’s going to accelerate what we’re seeing in terms of displacement.”

Although the People’s Plan presents the recommendations in an actionable format, Caballero said, the plan as a whole is “hard to put 100 percent support behind.” However, she explained that she also had no intention of “hijacking” and rewriting the People’s Plan.

She noted that three of the six resolutions were immediately actionable, and she proposed recommending them as-is to Council.

These recommendations asked the city to create a low-income housing trust fund and appropriations, to use city-owned land for low-income housing, and to adopt “right to stay” and “right to return” programs.

On March 8, Council passed a resolution proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo that establishes a right to return policy that would offer current or former residents of gentrifying areas preference for income-restricted housing. Her resolution asks city staff to examine how such a policy could be crafted and whether there are any legal barriers.

Tovo also expressed her support for the People’s Plan resolution that promotes building on city-owned owned land. “Generally I’m very supportive, and have been for a long time, of building on city-owned land,” she told the Monitor.

Despite her overall approval of the idea, Commissioner Ashley Normand explained that this was the first time that she had been asked to vote on a recommendation that was not vetted by a commission. She explained that she was wary to give her full support to something if she was unfamiliar with the research that went into it. “I would prefer commissioners creating recommendations rather than just voting up or down on the People’s Plan,” she said.

Commissioner Joe Miguez agreed, saying, “It’s not necessarily what we want to be putting out there as the word of the whole commission.”

Nevertheless, the commission agreed that the spirit of the plan was worth supporting.

Davis told the Monitor that she hopes to have a recommendation ready for Council about which portions of the People’s Plan it should adopt by March 26, the commission’s next meeting. The recommendation would also include any tweaks to the language that the commission deems necessary.

“I don’t think we’re here just to rubber-stamp something,” she said. “If time were not of the essence, I would love to take a luxurious look at (the plan).” However, as timing is everything, in this case, she acknowledged that the commissioners must move forward.

Photo by Rene Renteria.

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