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Council approves anti-displacement funding for year two of Project Connect

Monday, March 7, 2022 by Kali Bramble

Forty-one million dollars is officially on its way to the affordable housing pipeline as of last Thursday, when City Council resolved to allocate funding from Project Connect’s $300 million anti-displacement budget in the next fiscal year.

The resolution, sponsored by Council Member Ann Kitchen, commits $21 million toward existing housing development assistance programs with the stipulation that investments lie within a mile of planned transit lines. The remaining $20 million will fund community-led anti-displacement initiatives currently in development.

While voters overwhelmingly approved the public transit project in 2020, many remain concerned that resulting development will exacerbate the gentrification patterns plaguing the city. 

“These funds are critical to ensure that we are supporting our low-income and working-class communities, and communities of color, as they begin to feel the pressures of transit-induced displacement,” said Awais Azhar, Project Connect’s community advisory chair.

Distribution of the $300 million began last year with a $23 million investment in land acquisition programs, initiating the process of bringing more affordable housing units along transit corridors. So far, city staffers have used these funds to launch a community acquisition program, known as ADCAP, that provides local nonprofits with the means to purchase and develop land for affordable housing. 

“At this point we have allocated $8 million for local community corporations to acquire land for small-scale affordable housing development,” Housing and Planning Department staffer Mandy De Mayo said. “We should see the very first ADCAP award coming to the Austin Housing and Finance Corporation Board on March 24, which we’re very excited about.”

With 13 years to allocate funding, Kitchen emphasized the need for remaining land acquisition programs to move quickly. “We need to have more conversations about frontloading those dollars, because if you look at the fact that we’re allocating millions 13 years down the road, that’s really too late. We’ll need to have further discussions with the Austin Transit Partnership, that’s part of the review process we wrote into the joint powers agreement.”

At the same time, Council acknowledged the need for a rigorous community engagement process. Spearheading this effort is the Project Connect community advisory committee, which has recently developed a racial equity anti-displacement tool that will inform the $20 million set aside for community-led initiatives in Fiscal Year 2022.

Still, some question whether such initiatives will help those who need it most. “I immediately raise my antennae when you bring up Project Connect, because when you talk about anti-displacement and affordability, it means something different for everyone,” community organizer Frances Acuña said. “I want the city manager to evaluate the risk of displacement not at 60 percent median family income, but at the 30 and 40 percent MFI levels that are more representative of the Eastern Crescent.”

In coming months, staff anticipates that the completion of a federally funded equitable transit-oriented development study will help to fine-tune more specific investments. In the meantime, those interested in ongoing discussions can register to attend the next community advisory committee meeting, to be held virtually on Thursday, March 10.

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