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Anti-displacement recommendations take broad approach to combat gentrification

Monday, October 29, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

The task force convened late last year by City Council to study strategies for reversing Austin’s growing affordability and displacement problem has released its initial set of recommendations. Those recommendations include a mix of taxing mechanisms, social services and bond sales among the more than 70 suggested solutions.

The Anti-Displacement Task Force will hold its final meeting early next month and revise the recommendations using feedback gathered from a series of community input sessions, though members of the group said a rough prioritization of the action steps will be the most likely change. Once finalized, the recommendations will be presented to City Council by the end of November, with possible action to follow.

This is the third significant document concerning displacement to enter the Austin public sphere in 2018, following the People’s Plan created by a group of community activists and the Uprooted study from the University of Texas, with all three calling for ambitious steps to stem and reverse the trend of longtime residents, businesses and cultural institutions being forced to move or leave the city because of increasing rents and property taxes.

Components of both plans were incorporated in the draft recommendations, with feedback open until Nov. 4.

The task force – made up of Council-appointed representatives with deep experience in community development and urban real estate economics – referenced the city’s Strategic Housing Blueprint in stating that the projected shortfall in affordable and workforce housing is a $4 billion to $6 billion issue over the next 10 years.

The strategies attempt to address the problem from a number of angles including: use of existing local funds including bond money to provide housing and tax relief; improving the density bonus programs; partnering with other cities facing affordability issues to lobby state legislators to approve new funding mechanisms; and cooperation with private investors to increase development of affordable single-family homes and apartments.

Task force members said the city has repeatedly received reports and studied endorsing mostly the same mix of approaches to combat displacement, but hope the current Council’s broad interest in the issue will lead to action.

“There are a number of tools available to the city that aren’t being fully utilized, like a (tax increment reinvestment zone), and while there are some steps that are currently out of bounds with existing (state) law, there are also some tools we’ve not been bold enough to implement,” said Nefertitti Jackmon, co-chair of the task force and executive director of Six Square Austin.

“There’s been a lack of political will and devoting the money needed for these solutions is going to take bold leadership from the mayor or other Council people. People get frustrated when you keep studying the same thing over and over again, and now you have grassroots organizations saying the same thing that was first given to the city in 1979.”

Raul Alvarez, task force co-chair and executive director of Community Advancement Network, said there is concern about what action items City Council members will agree on, which will make the step of prioritizing the recommendations important before presenting them to Council.

He said the economic impact of displacement beyond East Austin could also become an issue for the local economy because of the loss of cultural institutions, artists and other attractions that bring visitors to the city.

“We’re not just looking at this as to how to fix the situation in East Austin, because this was found to be an issue in other far-reaching districts of Austin where displacement is starting to become an issue that stakeholders want to see addressed,” he said. “It’s not an easy issue to tackle and we hope these recommendations get it on the front burner. In that sense I’m hopeful that it’s going to be fresh and can get some immediate attention.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

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