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People’s Plan to combat gentrification headed to Council

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Ahead of its planned fall release of recommendations to combat gentrification in Austin, the city’s Anti-Displacement Task Force has endorsed a broad plan created by community organizers.

At its meeting last week the task force voted 12-1 to recommend City Council consider and take action on the People’s Plan, which is intended to specifically keep residents living in the city’s “eastern crescent” from being priced out of their longtime homes. The People’s Plan is made up of six resolutions addressing different facets of the problems associated with and possible solutions to displacement, with more than a dozen action steps for Council and city staff to enact.

Among them:

  • Immediately identify and release four city-owned parcels that can be used for affordable housing
  • Release a request for proposal for local nonprofits to produce housing on those parcels to accommodate at least 100 families
  • Release four additional city parcels for affordable housing by August
  • Create a plan with funding to use historic and neighborhood combining districts to preserve existing housing
  • Establish an environmental quality review program related to the impacts of displacement on health
  • Set interim development regulations to areas prone to flooding
  • Create a trust fund for low-income housing, and allocate $16 million each budget year
  • Require general obligation bond elections to set aside 20 percent of the total request for low-income housing
  • Require new tax increment financing zones to dedicate one-third of their revenue to low-income housing
  • Develop a “right to return” and “right to stay” program similar to those in Houston and Portland

Members of the task force, which was created by a 2017 Council resolution, said the plan’s objectives and action items have much in common with their mission of finding ways to keep new development from overtaking portions of Austin that have historically had low property values.

“We felt that it was aligned with the kind of issues we were created to address, and these are reasonable in terms of what (the plan’s creators) were trying to address,” said Raul Alvarez, co-chair of the task force. “We’ve heard from the community that there’s an urgency to act now, not in a few months when it will take that much longer to come up with something that will have an impact.”

The task force’s approval of the plan means it will be forwarded to members of Council, who will have the discretion to act on it as a whole or individually, or possibly wait until the task force delivers its own recommendations and combine both into one package.

Currently, city staff are working on a right to return policy passed at the March 8 Council meeting that directs the city manager to create preference framework for the distribution of the city’s affordable housing units. An analysis related to that resolution is due by May 25.

Looking ahead, the task force has formed four working groups addressing the supply of affordable housing for owners and renters, preserving small businesses and cultural assets, and studying financial strategies that relate to affordability. Another possible action could come from cooperation between the task force and an ongoing study on gentrification in Austin being conducted by classes at the University of Texas.

Alvarez said he’s hopeful the task force’s creation and the importance Council members have placed on the gentrification issue will result in aggressive measures by the city.

“There’s so much focus on economic prosperity and we don’t want to hamper that, but not every subset of the community is thriving,” he said. “We might talk and throw our hands up in the air because we’ve been talking about this for years, but not much ever happens in terms of action and investment.”

Task force member Ann Teich said she’s hopeful the People’s Plan will pass muster with the city’s Law Department and most of its components will make it to Council in close to their original form. Teich, who is a member of the Restore Rundberg Revitalization Team, said help is needed from both the public and private sector to prevent affordable homes from falling into disrepair and getting bought up by developers.

“Where I live, you see lots of affordable apartments and duplexes, and those that have government dollars involved seem to be protected and stay in good shape. But those without (public money) have irresponsible landlords, and those are the houses that get renovated and sold,” she said. “My preference is to also engage the real estate industry and make them better allies in what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Monica Guzmán, a community organizer and chair of Restore Rundberg, said her area is starting to feel more of the effects of gentrification that have been taking place in other sections of East Austin for years.

“There are lots of families on subsidized properties who are going to be displaced because gentrification is really starting to encroach,” she said. “There are already four breweries that have opened within a mile of Metric and Rundberg. So it’s gonna happen, but we’re not going to sit back and wait for someone else to do something about it.”

Photo courtesy of Google maps.

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