A task force set up to evaluate institutional racism in Austin is recommending the city create a fund with a goal of raising $600 million to buy and preserve affordable housing for minorities — giving preference to those previously displaced from gentrified areas.
The report, released to city leaders this week, does not go into great detail on implementing the hundreds of recommendations it contains, but is expected to be a jumping-off point as the city wrestles with issues of racial and economic segregation.
“I’m not sure we’ve ever treated this as systemically and institutionally as the opportunity (now),” Mayor Steve Adler said Tuesday.
Adler convened the 49-member task force in November, responding to high profile incidents of police use of force against African-Americans such as David Joseph, a naked and unarmed teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer, and Breaion King, a teacher who was thrown to the ground during a traffic stop.
City Council members received the final report at a workshop Tuesday. It includes 237 recommendations, divided into categories including education, real estate and criminal justice. Though the city directed the report, many recommendations apply to school districts and private companies.
“This is a road map for many different entities, especially the private sector,” said Council Member Ora Houston.
The report recommends raising $600 million for affordable housing by implementing a “linkage fee” on developers of $2 per square foot of new construction. It also asks the city to use public-owned property to build homes for low income, minority, former East Austin residents who want to return and allow housing including mobile homes or tiny homes on the land.
Council Member Greg Casar said he was surprised that, though the incidents with Joseph and King spurred the creation of the task force, the report barely mentions police use of force issues.
“I expected more mention of how we can address use of force issues and police shootings in our community,” he said. “It seemed there was maybe one recommendation around de-escalation training and not much else in that area.”
Task force chairwoman Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University, responded that her aim for the report was to address issues of inequality on a broader level and called the report “one step in the journey.”
In February, a draft sub-report from the task force’s housing group called CodeNext, the city’s proposed land use code rewrite, “the most recent tool of institutionalized racism.” It argued code changes aimed at increasing density in some areas of the city would accelerate displacement of minorities in rapidly-gentrifying East Austin.
This week’s final report mentions CodeNext by name only twice and softens the draft recommendations being contemplated in February.
Instead of asking to “eliminate voluntary density bonuses from the new code,” it asks to “ensure that the code offers a variety of funding models, such as voluntary density bonuses… but that development is open to other models.” Instead of asking the city to eliminate all subsides for market rate housing, it asks the city not to fund projects that offer exclusively market rate housing.
Instead of asking for policies to give reparation for displacement in the new code, it asks the city’s chief equity officer to research potential opportunities to make reparations for people affected by city codes or policies.
Some of the report’s recommendations are unlikely to be implemented. It asks to require that the city’s chief equity officer approve every new city code, ordinance, plan or policy — including CodeNext — effectively empowering a single employee with more power than the entire City Council.
Other recommendations include:
• Granting one-time-only homeowner tax payment assistance;
• Hiring minority teachers at a school in clusters, for inclusivity, and giving them a housing allowance or designated housing;
• Hiring a liaison to build links between schools, nonprofits and small businesses;
• Publishing annual assessments of use of force incidents and citizens complaints and improving the response time for public information requests submitted to police and the city;
• Incentivizing the eradication of institutionally racist iconography and “build up alternative, inclusive narratives;”
• Rewarding Realtors and landlords who “proclaim Austin values of ‘integration, diversity and inclusion;’”
• Creating a “We are Austin” marketing campaign showing people of various races.
City Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria thanked task force members for their work. He recalled the divisions in the Austin of his youth.
“The police were really brutal with us and we weren’t allowed to be caught after dark west of Congress Avenue,” he said. “I’m really proud we’ve gotten to this stage, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”