Council Measure Aims To Help Bring Families Displaced By Gentrification Back To Austin

Mar 9, 2018

The Austin City Council passed a resolution Thursday that aims to help bring families displaced by gentrification back to the city.

The measure calls for giving preference for affordable housing to displaced people who have generational ties to certain neighborhoods. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who wrote the resolution, calls it a “right to return” ordinance.

There are still legal questions that need to be worked out to balance other city policies and federal guidelines on fair housing. “So that will be the work that’s ahead of our legal department," Tovo said, "to find that balance.”

Tovo’s resolution focuses on parts of the city facing high levels of redevelopment. It cites a similar program in Portland, which aims to bring displaced residents back to gentrifying parts of town.

A handful of East Austin activists, including Daniel Llanes, applauded the idea.

“I’m hopeful for our town to leave its racist legacy behind and include everybody,” he said, “and economics is one of the biggest ways to do it.”

Council Member Delia Garza noted that the policy could be enforced only on affordable housing projects that are paid for by the city, and there aren’t a lot of those.

“I love the intention,” she said. “I think it’s a great idea. It’s basically allowing folks to come back who have been displaced, but we have such few tools to be able to use, and a lot of times, it’s hard to explain that to the public.”

Council Member Leslie Pool, who voted in support of the ordinance, said the city should hold developers to a higher standard, asking them to dedicate more units to affordable housing. The Council currently has the ability to negotiate what percentage of homes in certain projects should be affordable. Pool said that percentage should be higher – maybe even half of all units.

“A criticism that I have long had with the city’s attempts to provide lower-cost housing, affordable housing, is that we have never really challenged ourselves with regard to the percentages,” she said. “It’s always been 10 percent, you know. If we’re lucky, we might get to 15 percent, and the 50 percent is huge.”

The city manager is expected to bring a policy proposal back to council by May 25.