Study Could Shed More Light On Housing Discrimination In Central Texas

Jun 15, 2017

Austin City Council approved a review today of how fair housing practices measure up in Austin and across Central Texas. 

The federal Fair Housing Act aims to protect people from discrimination when renting, buying or financing a home. Despite those protections, the reality is that housing discrimination persists in many cities. This will be the first time the Austin-Round Rock metro area gets a comprehensive look at this issue across the entire region. 

“This assessment is going to lay out, ‘These are your fair housing issues. Here are some actions that you can take,’" said Matthew Ramirez with Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office. "And that’s the more important part, I think."

The review will assess four specific issues:

  • patterns of integration and segregation
  • racially concentrated areas of poverty
  • disproportionate access to opportunity 
  • disproportionate housing needs 

Ramirez said the findings will inform policy decisions for the next five years.

“It comes down to access to opportunity because we know it’s not just about housing,” he said. “All these systems work together.”

The Housing Authority of Travis County is one of the 11 entities that will take part in the assessment. Patrick Howard, the group's executive director and CEO, said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs is encouraging more cities to work together. He argued that encouragement is for good reason.

“I mean, when you think about it, fair housing issues certainly cross jurisdictional boundaries,” Howard said. “It’s not as if something that may occur in Round Rock or Georgetown is not likely to occur in Austin.”

Howard wants to ensure that fair housing goals are more consistent. For example, Travis County and Austin both face challenges in getting landlords to accept housing vouchers and getting approval to build affordable developments. But the county and city don't always face the same challenges, he said. 

“I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of gentrification going on within the city proper,” he said. “Areas outside of the city don’t typically have as much of an issue related to gentrification, because most of those areas are less developed and less concentrated.”

Ramirez also pointed to the ongoing overhaul of Austin’s land development code, known as CodeNEXT. He said that process gives the city a chance to bolster fair housing practices with policy.

“Our land development code is outdated, and a lot of the outcomes of that are disproportionate outcomes for minority and low-income communities,” Ramirez said.

Council members hope to bring on a consultant for the project by the end of the year.

This post has been updated to reflect the council's vote.