Activists: Austin should adopt anti-displacement, anti-gentrification policy before new Land Development Code


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s housing market ended 2019 with some record-breaking numbers.

According to the Austin Board of Realtors, 33,084 homes were sold in 2019, totaling $13,158,737,333 in sales volume.

As home prices continue to rise, a coalition called Development Without Displacement is criticizing the city for having only a vague policy and no real solutions to gentrification.

“We’re not asking for the city to solve the problem by themselves, but we are asking the city to look at the realities of what’s happening in the housing market and what’s happening in Austin,” said Carmen Llanes Pulido, Executive Director of Go Austin Vamos Austin (GAVA). “And not to add fuel to fire of displacement. And to make it easier for communities to do something about it.”

The coalition said instead of adopting the new Land Development Code (LDC), Mayor Steve Adler and City Council should adopt their anti-displacement plan.

It calls for:

  • Delaying zoning changes in vulnerable east Austin areas and provide time to get the anti-displacement program right
  • Engage vulnerable, lower-income communities in expanding and creating neighborhood plans to prevent displacement
  • Establish a comprehensive equitable development plan
  • Appropriate substantial funding and staffing to tackle displacement

Llanes Pulido said the city’s priority should be helping people who live in Austin stay in Austin.

“I know countless people who had to leave Austin,” she said. “Much of the community I grew up with — much of the African American community, much of the Mexican American community — has been displaced.”

The LDC dictates what kind of buildings can be built in different areas.

Llanes Pulido told KXAN she worries about a domino-effect displacement because the code doesn’t do much to bring down the cost.

“I see a huge potential for the displacement of moderate income people and the remaining low income people in central [Austin], and many of them are going to have just enough buying and renting power to displace people in the eastern crescent who are hanging on,” she explained.

Equity overlay proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza

During the code review process, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza proposed an amendment that aims to create something called an “Equity Overlay.”

Her proposal aims to:

  • Reduce the size of transition zones in vulnerable areas
  • Increase affordable housing requirements
  • Disincentivize redevelopment of multifamily homes

The neighborhoods covered by the overlay would be mostly in east Austin. Garza said the overlay can mirror this map:

A map of the Census Tracts in Austin most vulnerable to displacement based on 2016 numbers. Image from UT Austin Uprooted Full Report 2018.

Misael Ramos who lives in east Austin said his neighborhood, even though it’s near those areas vulnerable to gentrification, is not included in the map.

He said displacement isn’t just limited to a certain boundary.

“This used to all be pretty much teachers,” Ramos said. “They would come here, teach and give back to the community by giving kids education, by having after school programs, but unfortunately you’re starting to see school programs get cut, schools even closing down here in east Austin, and folks just not being able to afford it and moving out.”

Ramos lives in the Rogers-Washington-Holy Cross area.

“None of that [the Equity Overlay] is going to help the people who are already here, who are fighting for their homes,” he said. “We’re thinking about tomorrow, but we’re not thinking about the present and who’s living here now.”

The new LDC already passed the first reading. The second reading vote is scheduled for next month.

Mayor Adler said in a statement:

Significant displacement is happening everyday under the current land development code. We should not delay any longer adopting a new code designed in part to help fix this. 

For the last six years, neighborhoods and communities across the city have participated in drafting a new code focused on affordability, equity and the environment.

Anti-displacement measures are being built into the new code and the city will continue to make this a spending priority.

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