• Center for Community Change

Community Voices: East Austin’s People’s Plan is on its way to City Council

April 6th marked a victory for community groups of East Austin as the People’s Plan was endorsed by the City of Austin’s Anti-Displacement Task Force. With a 12-1 vote, the Task Force recommended six anti-gentrification resolutions to the City Council. Irrespective of the Council’s forthcoming decision on these recommendations, the People’s Plan exemplifies the importance of an actionable agenda.

The People’s Plan calls for comprehensive resolutions that specifically address the production and preservation of low-income housing and strategies to mitigate gentrification and displacement. The creation of a Low-Income Housing Trust Fund (LIHTF) tops off the Plan by calling for the allocation of $16 million for the LIHTF. These funds will be used for the construction and subsidization of housing for households making 60% or less of area median income (AMI) which was $46,680 for a 4-person household in FY2016.

East Austin community leaders, including Dr. Fred McGhee, a housing expert and head of the Save Montoplis Negro School Coalition, gather in front of the Montopolis Negro School to propose an anti-displacement program, a six-point People’s Plan, to the city to stop gentrification and the removal of people of color from the east side of Austin. Source: RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Plan also includes right-to-stay and right-to-return programs for East Austin. This policy mirrors that of Portland, Oregon’s “right-to-remain or return” policy, which focuses on bringing back former residents to a recently gentrified area and prioritizes available affordable housing for those that had been displaced or at risk of displacement. These resolutions have the potential to ease and amend the issues caused by decades of racist policies that spurred the uprooting of long-time residents who deserve the right to remain and reclaim their community.

The 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign inspired the action behind the People’s Plan. In 1968, as part of the Campaign, Dr. King emphasized the need to demand “better jobs, better homes, and better education” to “make it very clear that [Poor People] are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.” The People’s Plan does just that with an intentional focus on preserving and producing affordable housing, right-to-stay and right-to-return ordinances, and tighter enforcement of environmental quality reviews.

People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER) is one of the organizations that helped draft the People’s Plan. Susana Almanza, the Director of PODER, noted that the Plan addresses the need to tackle displacement and affordable housing with immediacy instead of depending on CodeNEXT, the City’s new initiative that is set to revise the Land Development Code for the first time in 30 years.

Fred McGhee of Preserve Rosewood, a coalition of concerned citizens and volunteers fighting for the preservation of Rosewood Courts, was also integral to the creation of the People’s Plan. The Plan, according to McGhee, “is a first step and an interim measure…to establish more permanent, equitable housing solution(s) for low-income Austinites.” McGhee goes on to say that the People’s Plan will require significant political will and monetary support because “we must realize that equity isn’t free, it costs money.”

The Plan is a critical step in combatting race-specific displacement, rapid gentrification, and insufficient supply of affordable housing affecting East Austin. From 2000-2010, the 78702 zip code’s African American and Latinx population decreased by 66% and 33%, respectively, while the White population increased by 442% percent. Within this same period, according to Those Who Stayed: The Impact of Gentrification on Longstanding Residents of East Austin, a 2018 report by University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (IUPRA), Austin was the only major growing city in the country that experienced an absolute numerical decline in African Americans. This is an alarming fact considering this area was once deemed the Negro District, a direct outcome of Jim Crow era policies that allowed Austin’s city plan to restrict where African Americans could access housing, schools, and public services.

With respect to the gentrification of East Austin, researchers noted that the loss of children in the neighborhood was a poignant indicator of the changing demographics of Austin’s Eastern Crescent. During the 2000-2010 period, the region saw its share of young children decrease from 30% to 12%. In a survey conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, which built on the 2014 IUPRA report on Austin’s declining African American population, 56% of respondents attributed leaving Austin because of housing unaffordability, and 24% departed in search for “better schools.”

The increase in the cost of living in East Austin coupled by the need to find higher-quality public education for children reveals how gentrification initially impacts and displaces low-to-moderate income families with young children. It is clear that the loss of children and families has negatively affected the feelings of a close-knit community and the historical connection to the land that once prevailed among East Austinites.

Nevertheless, the People’s Plan is crucial to counteracting the changes spurred by unequitable development and reversing decades of divestment and residential segregation primarily affecting communities of color. The academic work done by IUPRA and the grassroots community organizations demonstrates the opportunity for cross sector collaboration between advocacy groups and research institutions to develop actionable, data-driven solutions geared towards restorative housing policies.

For more information about the People’s Plan, you may contact Susana Almanza of PODER at poder.austin@gmail.com.

By Maria Cristina Chicuen, Emerson National Hunger Fellow