Gilbert and Jane Rivera bought their home in the Rosewood neighborhood of East Austin in 1983 for $39,000. Seventeen years later, it was worth $79,000. Another 17 years later, it was worth over $500,000.
The Riveras are both seniors living on fixed incomes. They’ve done what they can to hold onto their home, as their neighborhood continues to change. Gilbert, who is president of the Rosewood Neighborhood Association, says they continually get offers from real estate investors looking to buy them out.
Gilbert says the near-constant pressure to sell borders on intimidation.
“Every single day, we get phone calls, we get letters in the mail, we get people knocking on our doors, telling us it is time for us to move out because this is a property that is going to be gentrified,” he says. “And we are in constant fear of losing our homes because of gentrification, because of being unable to pay our taxes.”
The Austin City Council approved a program last week to educate homeowners, like the Riveras, who are being targeted by house-flippers.
District 2 Council Member Delia Garza brought forth the measure, which calls for creating a new educational campaign for homeowners. The effort would include outreach in neighborhoods that are often targeted by real estate investors, and potentially create a hotline to refer homeowners to real estate agents and legal resources.
If people chose to sell, Garza says, they can typically get much more money by going through an agent rather than a flipper.
“If you get this offer, this is not your only opportunity to sell,” she says. “There [are] real estate agents who will work with you to find the fair market value. ... That’s really the most protection for homeowners [who want to sell], is that they put their house on the market.”
The resolution is part of what Garza and some other council members are calling the Housing Justice Agenda, a series of policies aimed at curbing displacement and better integrating Austin’s housing. Based on what she’s hearing from constituents, Garza says house-flippers seem to be targeting some of the most vulnerable families in East and Southeast Austin.
“Low-income families build their wealth ... in their home equity,” Garza says. “I know for me that’s been the case, and so it just seems kind of predatory."