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Austin Transit Partnership OKs anti-displacement funding

Thursday, March 18, 2021 by Harrison Young

The Austin Transit Partnership Board of Directors unanimously approved a grant agreement Wednesday to finance anti-displacement efforts using money from Project Connect’s tax revenue.

The funds, totaling $300 million, will be dispersed over Project Connect’s 13-year timeline, according to ATP’s resolution. The express purpose of the money is to buy property for affordable housing along transit corridors and to identify other anti-displacement strategies.

“This is a huge, huge win for the community. This is unprecedented,” Board Member Eric Stratton said.

The first three years will see $100 million of those funds as Project Connect ramps up, with the remaining $200 million let out over the next decade.

According to the Transit Speed & Reliability Interlocal Agreement, which delineates collaboration between the city of Austin and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city will designate the Housing and Planning Department to be in charge of the funds on the city’s behalf. ATP Chief Financial Officer Greg Canally will represent that organization in the process.

After initially wincing at the enormous sum and its potential pitfalls, board members said use of the funds will become more clear as Project Connect moves forward.

“Once we are at 30 percent design, we are going to know a lot more of the known unknowns,” said Randy Clarke, Capital Metro and ATP president and CEO.

Various government agencies, such as the Housing and Planning Department, Equity Office and Sustainability Office are charged with crafting proposals based on community input to mitigate displacement.

Earlier this month, the Housing and Planning Committee heard discussion about displacement funds on the housing side of the issue. The anti-displacement attempt is divided into two parts: the acquisition of land to construct more affordable housing, and the preservation of existing housing.

The inclusion of anti-displacement funds was part of the Project Connect ballot language.

Project Connect is Austin’s planned transit system, approved by voters in November, that includes citywide light rail, more bus lines, more MetroBike stations, and an underground downtown transit tunnel that is expected to feature shops and other amenities alongside train stops. According to the current light rail timeline, the Blue and Orange lines will be finished in nine years. Currently, they are in the preliminary engineering and environmental review phase, which is scheduled for one year. Final design should begin in 2024, with completion in 2029.

Another feature of the project, the expansion of both regular bus and MetroRapid bus lines, is expected to be completed in four to five years. The new bus lines will bolster existing routes and fill out gaps in the system.

The city’s Contract With Voters, of which anti-displacement is a part, pledges to create safer and more reliable transportation for Austinites and to support local businesses and affordable housing. The anti-displacement funds must be spent in accordance with Contract With Voters guidelines.

Concerns about the lack of affordable housing in Austin are intensifying as the city’s population continues to grow.

“Let’s help each other out,” Chair Veronica Castro de Barrera said. “This is a major crisis in our city.”

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

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