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Project Connect team unveils report on anti-displacement strategy

Thursday, January 13, 2022 by Kali Bramble

Project Connect is one step closer to realizing its $7.1 billion public transportation investment, after a report outlining plans for the $300 million set aside for anti-displacement programs was completed last Thursday. The report, developed by a team of impacted community members and city staffers, describes a racial equity anti-displacement tool designed to direct and evaluate funding for these initiatives.

While Project Connect is slated to bring significant expansion of public transportation options to the historically underserved Eastern Crescent, some have voiced concerns that the development may exacerbate Austin’s gentrification and affordability crises. In response, the anti-displacement report details the city’s approach to both short- and long-term mitigation strategies.

“The purpose of the racial equity anti-displacement tool is to drive racial equity and anti-displacement in Project Connect decisions,” the report reads. “It is designed to be used by a broad audience … to score anti-displacement fund proposals and to inform policy, planning and program decisions.”

The anti-displacement tool prioritizes programs like affordable housing initiatives, loans and grants for small businesses, and rent, mortgage and property tax relief that would impact historically displaced groups within a mile of new transportation infrastructure. The tool intends to assist a range of vulnerable populations including BIPOC communities, renters, those below 80 percent median income, immigrants, senior homeowners, families with children, and the disabled. 

Alongside immediate relief for those at risk of displacement, the report outlines policy ideas for long-term investments in maintaining and revitalizing Eastern Crescent communities. The report calls for a designated pool of $27 million for a community-capacity building fund designed to rebuild and return networks of economic power to displaced populations. Workforce programs, public land purchases and the funding of organizations considered “cultural anchors” to the surrounding community are just a few of the report’s recommendations.

Alongside policy recommendations, the report calls for program structures involving impacted community members at all levels of the decision-making process. To encourage this structure, the racial equity anti-displacement tool will prioritize partnerships with BIPOC and working class-led contractors and nonprofit organizations.

According to the report, the city will use this framework to evaluate all future proposals for anti-displacement fund use. The tripartite city of Austin, Austin Transit Partnership and Capital Metro team is tasked with developing an ongoing monitoring program to track and report outcomes to city leadership and to the community. This process is slated to begin with the Austin Transit Community Advisory Committee, tasked with designing the data dashboard to monitor progress.

With its guiding principles established, the anti-displacement tool has been passed to the city’s Housing and Planning Department, which is tasked with forming an implementation plan legally compliant with state and federal purchasing standards. Staff members aim to have these plans ready to share with City Council sometime next month.

In the meantime, city staffers will share details and collect feedback in a series of anti-displacement learning sessions open to the public. Those interested can sign up for updates.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license

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