Community group works to create Project Connect equity tool, spend $300M anti-displacement funds


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Over the course of three months, a group of 30 people will meet to discuss racial equity to develop a guide for the future of Project Connect’s $300 million aimed to prevent displacement.

The anti-displacement funds could go to programs or projects to help those most vulnerable and likely to be impacted by the development of new transit lines.

It’s called the ‘Catalyst’ group and 90% of those in it are people of color. Here’s how the group breaks down: 57% are Black, 37% are Latino, 20% are Indigenous, 13% are White and 7% are Asian American. The City of Austin mentions some of the members ‘identify as more than one racial or ethnic group.’

Every member of the Catalyst group earns less than the median income for Austin. For the fiscal year 2020, the median family income is $97,600, according to figures Travis County received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Just under 90% are current or former neighbors of the Eastern Crescent at 88% and half of the group depends on transit.

(Source: City of Austin)

Some of those members include Kristana Jeffers, a south Austin neighbor who describes herself as a “butterfly who is just evolving.” She loves to learn and said he goal for joining the group was to be a voice for those who do not have one.

“A lot of my neighbors are undocumented and there’s a lot of fear about where they may end up to be displaced,” she explained. “I wanted to advocate for them as well as for my own personal reasons and being a former foster youth. That group is also underrepresented and there’s not enough housing and support for those young people.”

Jeffers also suggested “having more units that are more subsidized.” She mentions looking out for “small businesses, seeing how they can be compensated” and helping them remain where they are. She added the same goes for longtime homeowners.

For longtime east Austinite, Gavino Fernandez that’s one of his top priorities.

“That’s why I applied,” Fernandez said. “To be able to be that voice for my landowners.”

Fernandez said he wants to avoid a repeat of what he and the community went through with the development of Plaza Saltillo. He said to this day he is affected by the development.

“Before rail came through my taxes were $300 to $400 a year,” he said. “Today, (my taxes are) $9,000 a year.”

He also wants to see locals benefit from the project.

“We have contractors in this community that can do major jobs and those are the ones that also need to be included,” he said and added he wants to see the money “truly go to anti-displacement efforts.”

He said one way to do that is by “investing in landowners who have the land that is going to be affected by this problem,” he said. “You have a lot of folks that are going to be affected by this.”

North Austin neighbor Linda Jackson recognizes the city is growing she just wants to ensure it grows in the right direction.

“What I would like to see is for everyone to have affordable accessible transportation back-and-forth to work without it gentrifying the culture that’s already there,” she said.

That’s because Jackson said it’s not just those who live along the transit lines who are affected, “all of us are indirect effect. As the price of living in the city of Austin escalates, all of us are affected from the head to the foot.”

City staff anticipates the group will have a guide to follow by June.

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