Friday, March 12, 2021 by Seth Smalley

Project Connect, anti-displacement funding made available

The Housing and Planning Committee convened on March 11, fielding discussion about anti-displacement funding, including $300 million from Project Connect tax revenue. The anti-displacement strategies discussed mostly involved using the money to acquire and preserve property in key locations for affordable housing.

In order for the city to use the funds, it needs an interlocal grant agreement between the city of Austin and Austin Transit Partnership. According to Erica Leak, community development officer for the Housing and Planning Department, city staffers and staff from ATP are already working to develop the agreement and it is expected to move forward to City Council in the coming weeks.

The $300 million is expected to be spent over a 12-year period, with the first $100 million spent in the first two years and the next $200 million evenly spent over the next decade.

“At the same time, staff from a number of different departments are working with community members and consultants to develop an equity assessment tool,” Leak said.

The equity tool, another factor in the funding’s allocation, is intended to ensure anti-displacement strategic decisions are made equitably. In collaboration with transit-savvy and displacement-affected community members (who will be compensated at $25 per hour), the tool is being developed by an interdepartmental team consisting of the equity, innovation and resiliency offices, Housing and Planning, and the Transportation Department.

“It’s there to make sure the systems are set up to have accountability to people who are most directly impacted by displacement pressure,” Leak said.

Mandy De Mayo, community development administrator for Housing and Planning, also spoke to the committee.

“Recognizing there is urgency, because Project Connect is moving pretty fast, Council directly announced to make available $23 million this fiscal year,” De Mayo said.

The effort is organized into two distinct priorities: land acquisition and preservation of affordable housing. The land acquisition involves aiding community-based organizations to rapidly acquire sites less than an acre in size, while the preservation component is focused on larger lots, supporting the formation of cooperatives and partnering with nonprofits with strong track records of working with communities vulnerable to displacement.

“There’s a lot of interest in the topic of preservation, which is complicated, because a lot of our affordable housing requires a substantial amount of investment,” De Mayo noted. “We would anticipate a partnership between Austin Housing Finance Corporation and the developer of the property. In most of the properties, it would involve re-categorization.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen asked about the immediate use of the $23 million, suggesting prioritizing land acquisition near the lines adjacent to Pleasant Valley and the expo center, due to the more immediate timeline of their development.

“I know the language talks about areas vulnerable to displacement along high-capacity transit coordinators, but I would urge you all to prioritize,” Kitchen said. “Because the reason for upfronting the $23 million was to try to get ahead of the curve, to areas that are coming first.”

The grant agreement for the anti-displacement funding marked the fourth step in a multistep sequence, which has been in the works since last year, starting with the ATP articles of incorporation and ending with the tri-party ATP Joint Powers Agreement between the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city and ATP.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council Housing and Community Development Committee: A City Council committee that reviews land use, housing and community development, and other concerns related to housing.

Project Connect: This project brought together a series of Central Texas transportation agencies looking to build high-capacity transit options in the region in the wake of CAMPO's 2035 regional transportation plan. The City of Austin's much-discussed 2014 Urban Rail plan was part of Project Connect's efforts.

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