There were carefully made signs and snappy chants, but also solutions to try to put an end to gentrification in East Austin and salvage the fabric of neighborhoods marred by the displacement of families who no longer can afford to live in them.
In recognition of Martin Luther King Jr., a gathering of mostly Hispanic and black residents protested what it believes is a social injustice that city officials continue to ignore with the revision of a land development code that activists say will exacerbate their gentrification concerns.
Dr. Fred McGhee, an urban anthropologist and author, called for immediate action.
“We do not need any more delay tactics; we do not need any more studies,” he said. “We do not need charity. What we need is respect.”
The gathering took place at Montopolis Negro School, a historical site that was at risk of being razed before the Austin City Council intervened in September and agreed to negotiate its acquisition from a redeveloper. The school had educated many of the neighborhood’s black residents when Austin’s schools refused to do so.
McGhee shared the podium with Susana Almanza, head of People Organized in the Defense of Earth and her Resources, and Nelson Linder, president of the local NAACP. Together, they unveiled a six-step solution that they say is preferable to CodeNext, the proposed land development code that city officials had commissioned in part to alleviate gentrification.
Almanza said CodeNext gives no protection to mobile home communities and is an “extension of systemic racism.”
The resolutions, which the leaders said could be enacted immediately, are:
- Establish interim land restrictions to limit degradation of the natural and cultural environment.
- Establish a low-income housing trust fund.
- Use city-owned landed to create 2,000 low-income housing units on eight city properties. This could be done this year, they said.
- Implement an East Austin neighborhood conservation program to restrict land use.
- Launch programs that would allow seniors and low-income residents to stay in or return to their communities.
- Launch a program that would ensure environmental justice.
Almanza is asking the city to set aside $16 million annually for low-income housing.
“If it is able to find a soccer field in one month, it can find the money to construct it,” she said, referring to a possible move to Austin by Ohio’s Columbus Crew franchise of Major League Soccer and the discussions over a possible soccer stadium site.