Proposed Project Connect funding plan includes $300 million for anti-displacement efforts

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Capital Metro’s Project Connect is one step closer to being on the November ballot. Monday, Austin City Council voted to approve a $7.1 billion initial investment plan, which would mean an 8.75 cent tax rate increase for homeowners.

Originally, CapMetro presented two choices:

  • A $7 billion initial investment plan that would’ve led to a 8.5 cent tax rate increase
  • A $10 billion investment plan for which the tax rate increase would’ve been 11 cents

After reviewing the proposals, council members went with the $7 billion option, but increased that to $7.1 billion to include $300 million for Transit Supportive Investments, instead of $200 million.

Several council members said the $300 million funding would be used to prevent displacement, especially along the proposed transit lines.

City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison told KXAN this is an opportunity to “get it right.”

She said, “Clarksville was our longest lasting freedom community, and it was one of the last big pockets of black residents west of Interstate 35. But when they built Mopac, they literally flattened dozens of homes there and displaced nearly 200 families.”

She said while “it is absolutely worthwhile to invest in our community in this way” and create a new transit system, she doesn’t want families living along the proposed lines to be forced out of their homes due to affordability issues.

The University of Texas at Austin School of Law Professor Heather Way looked at research done by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies. She said, in a Minnesota city, home values skyrocketed after a new light rail line was built.

“An increase of $9.20 per square foot eventually going up to $13 a square foot per development,” she explained.

She said one solution is for the city to buy the properties. Denver, Colorado is an example.

“There’s a number of different properties in Denver along its light rail lines that this conservancy has acquired and is preserving and then improving. And actually, they’re able to come along and actually add additional affordable units onto that property,” Way told KXAN.

Way said the city should act quickly to buy and preserve affordable housing along the proposed routes, saying “Really, the greatest increase is triggered actually as soon as the announcement is made about funding being available for the transit stop, and then increases continue until that rail line stops actually open.”

According to City Council members, there isn’t an exact plan yet for what kind of programs the $300 million will be used to fund. They said the funding could be used in many different ways. Land acquisition could be an option. Rental assistance is another.

“The purpose of it is to help people stay in their homes, in their neighborhoods,” said Council Member Ann Kitchen. “Some examples might be a more affordable housing, could be rental assistance, rental stabilization, could be right to return kinds of policies, home repairs.”

She told KXAN the impacted community will have a say.

“They decide what they need in their neighborhoods, and they work with the city. And then we work to make it happen with our partnership with Cap Metro,” Kitchen said.

Carmen Llanes Pulido, Executive Director of Go Austin Vamos Austin, emphasized the importance of being proactive.

“We have to be proactive at every step, whether that’s acquiring land, ensuring ownership by impacted communities, investing in equity, racial equity and real estate equity,” she said.

She also added the promise of having the community involved in the process must be kept.

“I think we have to look at who’s most impacted by these decisions, by the process. Are they at the table? Are we actually following their lead and setting benchmarks and metrics and goals on the front end?” Llanes Pulido said. “It can’t be a promise. It can’t be a vague conversation. It certainly can’t just be the words affordable tossed around.”

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