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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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Council votes to move ahead with People’s Plan to combat displacement
City Council’s push to address the area’s rising cost of living could soon include components of a plan put forward by a coalition of community groups to prevent low-income residents from being priced out of Austin. At last week’s meeting, Council unanimously passed a resolution directing the city manager to conduct an analysis and make recommendations on the actions included in the People’s Plan, which was created to keep residents in the fast-growing Eastern Crescent sections of Austin – traditionally a lower-income region where many longtime residents have lived for generations – from losing their homes.
The plan includes six resolutions to provide public funding and city land for affordable housing, improve infrastructure and other quality-of-life issues in existing low-income areas, and move forward with the development of a “right to return” policy that is intended to combat the effects of gentrification that have already forced some residents out of their neighborhoods.
The resolution gives an Aug. 31 deadline for a report back to Council, but proponents of the plan urged quick action on some of the policies because of simmering developments that could displace large portions of East Austin residents in the next 12 months.
Susana Almanza, an organizer with People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER), said families in the Comfort Park mobile home community and those in apartment complexes on East Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley Road are among the more than 600 residents who have been recently identified as facing imminent displacement threats because of redevelopment plans.
“The People’s Plan needs to move forward in action, not any more analysis or studies,” she said. “You’ve done a lot of those. You have over 500 resolutions that have already passed within 10, 15, 20 years, and only a few have been instituted. I’d hate to see the People’s Plan become another plan that just sits back there, again being analyzed and studied and not moving forward when the Council right now has the power to move these things forward.”
The People’s Plan would add to a variety of initiatives from various city offices looking at how to make the city more affordable as it adds residents while not adding enough housing supply to keep up.
The city’s Anti-Displacement Task Force is expected to deliver its own plan this fall – last month its members recommended Council consider and move forward with the People’s Plan ahead of time – and there is also a movement to include $300 million or more in funds for affordable housing in a bond election planned for November.
Council Member Greg Casar said the public will need to continually address Council members during the coming budget sessions to emphasize their desire to create more affordable housing and enact other measures to prevent displacement.
“Some of these things are currently being studied and in process, and (the People’s Plan) wouldn’t slow that down,” he said. “I agree we need to get more money into the low-income trust fund. Based on our existing goals in the last budget, we wanted to add $4 million and were only able to get to $2 million, so we already have a $4 million goal that we’re having trouble reaching. So I would encourage everyone in the community to come talk to us during budget.”
Zenobia Joseph, a local policy analyst and educational consultant, said Council shouldn’t lose sight of the transportation needs that are tied into the affordability issue because housing options can often be located miles away from bus lines and other transportation options.
“Even in your institutional racism, the plan that you have, transit was not a high priority,” she said. “One of the things that’s intrinsically important to recognize as you’re trying to reach the low- and moderate-income individuals, which is the first part of that resolution, is to recognize they probably need affordable housing, yes, but they also need transportation.”
Photo by Rene Renteria.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
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.
PODER: People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources. A citizen group focused on environmental, economic and social justice issues.