Friday, April 16, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

City names anti-displacement officer as real estate prices climb

As Austin’s real estate prices continue to soar, the city has named a new point person in charge of reducing the displacement of residents from affordable housing units.

Nefertitti Jackmon recently started her new role as the community displacement prevention officer within the Housing and Planning Department. Jackmon previously worked on programs related to displacement in that department, but the new position points to the growing problem of residents being forced out of low- and middle-income housing by development pressures or other issues.

As the former head of the Six Square cultural district in East Austin, Jackmon has seen the effects of the city’s housing supply not growing fast enough to meet the demand created by thousands of new residents arriving each year.

Jackmon said strategies such as an equitable development fund would be helpful to add to affordable housing bonds approved by voters in 2018, as well as affordability considerations built into the Project Connect transit initiative.

“The need and demand is here for the city to make a more robust response … it’s essentially a crisis for lower-income communities and communities of color because they’re not able to keep up with maintaining affordable homes in stable communities,” she said. “It comes down to being able to shift some of the power by asking the people who are most impacted and able to make decisions about how their communities should be protected, how they’re developed to ensure equity.”

“We’ve got to find a way to engage those communities in the decision-making process.”

Displacement prevention will take many forms, from creating citywide plans for preserving and creating affordable units to providing assistance to residents facing evictions or other problems that could force them out of their homes.

Jackmon said there are no new programs or initiatives in the works that would require City Council approvals, with one priority being moving ahead with plans to increase the capacity of community development corporations that build affordable housing.

“We have to be able to preserve housing stock that is currently affordable, but in addition to that we have to continue to build affordable and mixed-use housing, provide a multitude of options, like more duplexes, because what we need to see in Austin is a variety of housing types and more of it, so there’s not just one model and more choices on the market at a variety of pricing levels,” she said. “The city can’t build fast enough all the housing we would need to address the need that exists, so one of the ways we can solve that is to build up the capacity of community development corporations with the mission to build affordable housing.”

Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison described displacement as being at a crisis level in her East Austin district as well as other parts of the city’s Eastern Crescent. She said Jackmon’s time with Six Square and her other roles in the community have given her a balanced perspective.

“Her commitment to preservation is not superseded by her commitment to affordability and building new housing stock … she’s not too far in either direction of tear it all down and build new stuff or save everything regardless of how run-down it is, and it’s the good, pragmatic place to be,” Harper-Madison said.

“We have a lot of income-restricted housing but a lot of that stock is old … so part of the strategy is going to have to be how to reasonably preserve our aging housing stock that generally is multifamily and located on the east side as well as a few in South Austin, and it’s all starting to be compromised from an infrastructure standpoint.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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