Daniel Llanes, who lives in 78702, one of the most rapidly gentrifying
zipcodes in Austin, has posted an interesting New York Time's piece on how
cities are beginning to grapple with gentrification:
Not surprisingly, the City of Austin isn't even looking at these kind of solutions.
The Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA), whose lobbyists have driven the
City's policy on development and housing for decades, is back at it. RECA is
insisting tht CodeNext, the City's overhaul of city zoning, should allow
the free market (and the roll back of several inconvenient ordinances like
the McMansion and the Heritage Tree Ordinance) to 'fix' Austin's
see RECA's stance on Code Next:
The problem with RECA's insistence that a free market is the best solution
for Austin is this theory has already been disproven.
(Click Read more)
"The fallacy of trickle-down gentrification also highlights the complications
of the term “affordable,” used to describe housing priced below market rates.
Affordable housing, often built by community development corporations like the one I work at, has largely supplanted government-funded public housing since the 1970s. Many units are paid for by Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), while some are covered by project-based Section 8 vouchers and other subsidies. But while public housing is home to people with incomes below 30 percent of the median, LIHTC units typically use 30 percent of median income as a floor. This means that while affordable housing is affordable to certain low- and moderate-income people, and plays an important role in allowing those people to remain in gentrifying cities, it is often unaffordable to the working poor.
If affordable housing is only sometimes affordable, and public housing
construction has stalled, then how will luxury condo development keep cities
affordable for poor and working-class people? It won’t, of course. But the idea
that the crisis can be solved by letting the free market build penthouses masks
the need for government intervention through massive construction of new
An example of how free market polices and trickle-down gentrification is
failing Austinites is in the side bar of an article on East Austin's
“Inclusionary” Zoning Excludes the Poor: All of the plans for neighborhoods
of low-income people of color have included calls to increase the availability
of affordable housing and to protect existing residents from gentrification. In
November 2006, Austin voters passed a $55 million Affordable Housing Bond, but as of 2008 no clear plan has been presented to the community as to how this money will be spent.
Community residents are currently involved in discussions about Transit
Oriented Districts (TOD), which call for high density development near transit
corridors. Federal guidelines for funding TODs require 20 percent of the total
number of residential units be “affordable.” The affordability is set at 60 to
80 percent of the Median Family Income (MFI).
Many East Austin residents live at only 30 to 50 percent of the MFI. The result is that federal housing money is being used to gentrify low-income communities.
The City of Austin has created an even lower standard—a Vertical Mixed Use
zoning where only 10 percent of all units built would be affordable at 80
All these standards don’t even begin to address the poor—those who live below
29 percent of the MFI. In most states, public housing for the indigent has not
been built since the 1940s and 1950s, and many public housing contracts have
expired and are in jeopardy of converting to market-rate housing. PODER and
other housing activists recommend that housing funds be utilized to truly assist
the poor and working poor of this country. Present MFI targets don’t represent
the financial reality of many communities where there is a large gap between
rich and poor. Lower levels of affordability must be instituted at the federal
level or increased homelessness will be the inevitable result."
There is also this interesting piece, which shows how the City staff weigh's
the future of something as iconic as Austin's music scene against the push of
the developers' lobbyists.
"The Waller Creek project is changing all that. To ensure it becomes a jewel
in downtown’s crown, City Council created the Waller Creek District Master Plan,
a blueprint for future investment that calls for $34 million in improvements
such as repairing eroded banks and adding bike lanes and walking paths to city
parks. This is all well and good, but a tax-increment financing district that
includes most of the Red River music venues is paying for the tunnel. That is,
the city is confident that property values, and therefore tax revenues, will
rise significantly along Red River once the tunnel is complete, so it’s
borrowing against future property tax revenues. As the music venues’ leases
expire, their landlords will likely sell to the highest bidder or raise rent on
the venues, and that will be the end of the Red River music scene.
This process has already started. The iconic Emo’s nightclub packed up and
moved to a new, terrible location south of the river and east of the freeway in
the fall, as did Austin’s Beauty Bar. Smaller Red River venues are facing the
expiration of their leases this year because landlords want the option to sell.
City Council members routinely pay lip service to the notion that the Red River
music venues are an “integral part” of their plan, yet a 3-D rendering of the
plan depicts more than a dozen new high-rise towers in an area that currently is
home to a cluster of small music clubs, a Salvation Army, and a homeless
Maybe its time to move the dialogue away from what RECA and the developers
want, and start asking what would be best for Austin instead. Going back to the
New York Times article, Philadelphia is one of the cities trying to find
different solutions to gentrification:
"Newcomers, whose vitality is critical to cities, are hardly being turned
away. But officials say a balance is needed, given the attention and government
funding being spent to draw young professionals — from tax breaks for luxury
condominium buildings to new bike lanes, dog parks and athletic fields.
“We feel the people who toughed it out should be rewarded,” said Darrell L.
Clarke, president of the Philadelphia City Council, which last year approved
legislation to limit property tax increases for longtime residents. “And we feel
it is incumbent upon us to protect them.”
A City that insists on being beholden to what's best for its citizens - not
what's best for lobbyists. Now that's really turning urban redevelopment policy on its head.