Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify Austin’s anti-displacement risk definition, as well as Austin City Council funding allocations for Project Connect’s anti-displacement initiatives.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday night, Project Connect’s community advisory committee discussed relocation processes for displaced residents and businesses due to the multi-billion-dollar transit initiative.

Austin voters approved Project Connect in November 2020, to an initial tune of $7.1 billion. Since, project scope changes, real estate acquisition costs and inflation have raised that estimated project cost to more than $10 billion.

As part of that funding, $300 million has been earmarked for anti-displacement use to help residents and businesses situated along the project’s boundaries.

Approximately 302,000 people and 135,000 housing units are located within one mile of Project Connect’s boundaries and are at risk for displacement “due to an inability to absorb housing costs,” city officials told KXAN. They added those estimates — based on 2020 Census data — aren’t related to Project Connect’s rail line construction.

“Project Connect acknowledges that some relocations will take place, but the planning process is ongoing and impact estimates have yet to be established. Obviously, the goal is to balance the opportunities to provide public transportation while minimizing any dislocation impacts,” officials said in an email to KXAN.

While design proposals are still preliminary, every location identified as a displacee once designs progress is entitled to relocation cost reimbursements, said Alex Gale, director of real estate with the Austin Transit Partnership.

“In order to build this project, here’s kind of the footprint that we show is going to be needed to do this full design build out of this infrastructure project,” he said.

How does a displacement process work?

Displacee relocation reimbursements are broken down into two main categories: residential and non-residential. Residential displacements include both homeowners and occupants along with tenants, while non-residential displacements apply to property owners, landlords and tenants of businesses, farms and nonprofits.

Under the Uniform Act, all identified properties must receive a notice to the property owner of the impending displacement. From there, project officials go through a just compensation process where the property is appraised, independently reviewed and just compensation is offered at or above the appraised value.

From there, displacees are offered relocation assistance. Homeowners are offered up to $31,000, while tenants can receive up to $7,200 in relocation assistance. However, Gale said these replacement figures could end up higher, given Austin’s rising cost of living.

For businesses, farms and nonprofit organizations, property owners or tenants can receive up to $25,000 for a re-establishment expense payment, personal property moving expenses and a fixed payment of up to $40,000.

What’s the typical timeline for residential and non-residential displacements?

Within 90 days, project heads will issue a rights of entry. From there, the title and surveying process can take roughly 90 days to complete, with an additional 90 days needed for appraising the property.

After an appraisal is made, it can take approximately nine months to go through negotiations from the initial officer made to the final petition being filed and closing. Then, it takes roughly eight months from the initial petition filing to complete the condemnation and possession of the property. Throughout the negotiation process will be the relocation process, with a minimum of 30 days from possession required for a resident or non-residential owner and tenant to vacate the property.

How has Austin used its Project Connect anti-displacement funding so far?

In March, Austin City Council approved $41 million in anti-displacement funds for twofold use, with $21 million earmarked to help construct affordable housing resources and $20 million for community-initiated solutions. Council previously approved in February 2021 $23 million for displacement projects, including land acquisition and development.

James May, community development officer with the city of Austin, said that of the land acquisition funding, the Austin Housing Finance Corporation is investing resources to increase supplies of affordable housing units. This year, AHFC expects to see the development of 400 new affordable housing units.

The anti-displacement community acquisition program, aided by the city’s Housing and Planning Department, will offer 0% interest loans on a rolling basis to the following groups:

  • “Small community-based” 501c3 nonprofits with experience renovating, constructing, leasing and selling affordable housing in Austin
  • Acquisition of “vacant and improved property” that are at or smaller than one acre in size; these properties can be used for development, renvoations, leasing and sale as affordable housing for lower-income households
  • Areas “experiencing or vulnerable to displacement,” with a geographic boundary at or closer than one mile from a proposed Project Connect bus or rail line

While funding has been designated for anti-displacement resources, city officials told KXAN in April that the $300 million funding pool won’t be enough to combat Austin’s rising living costs and national inflation rates.

“The $300 million are insufficient to meet the rapidly increasing housing costs that Austinites are facing, especially low-income households,” said Nefertitti Jackmon, Austin’s Community Displacement Prevention officer, in April.

According to Project Connect’s anti-displacement dashboard, 61% of people living within one mile of Project Connect are classified as a person of color and 67% are designated low income, based on 2019 Census estimates.

Austin’s Housing and Planning Department has a three-tier classification for displacement risks: vulnerable, active displacement and chronic displacement.

  • Vulnerable: Vulnerable neighborhoods are “near or contain areas with high property values and/or high rates of appreciation.”
    • Approximately 139,000 residents, 55,000 housing units and 7,000 affordable housing units are classified as at vulnerable risk
  • Active displacement: Active displacement neighborhoods are areas “with vulnerable residents, active demographic change, and accelerating or appreciating housing market”
    • Approximately 119,000 residents, 56,000 housing units and 9,000 affordable housing units are classified as at risk for active displacement
  • Chronic displacement: Chronic displacement neighborhoods are communities where “vulnerable residents have been displaced, significant demographic change has occurred, and the housing market is high value and appreciated”
    • Approximately 45,000 residents, 24,000 housing units and 2,000 affordable housing units are classified as at risk for chronic displacement

Project Connect is expected to release its 30% design and cost estimate draft to the public this summer.