Activists push anti-displacement earmark on eve of city budget talks


Group says $58.3 million program could be funded by affordable housing bond, sale of city-owned building.

As budget week kicked off Monday at Austin City Hall, a group of activists called for the City Council to fund their plan to fight off gentrification in the eastern part of the city.

Despite its proposed $58.3 million sticker price, the People’s Anti-Displacement Program would add no new spending to the city’s budget or take away any money from the general fund, the plan’s backers said.

Instead, it would earmark roughly $28 million from the proposed $250 million affordable housing bond to a list of items proposed by such East Austin activist leaders as Nelson Linder, the local NAACP president, and Susana Almanza, a City Council candidate for District 3 and the head of PODER. The plan also calls for the sale of the city-owned HealthSouth building near 12th and Red River streets for $30 million to pay for the rest of the program.

The group’s push for an earmark comes just as the City Council is set to approve a municipal budget this week. The sprint toward budget approval begins publicly Tuesday with a council meeting at 10 a.m. at City Hall.

The meeting likely will be the first of three back-to-back meetings this week, concluding with the budget’s final approval on Thursday. The council could approve the budget in its entirety Tuesday, though all previous 10-1 councils have used the full three days to complete the process.

City Manager Spencer Cronk’s proposed $4.1 billion budget calls for a 4.9 percent increase to the city’s property tax rate. The Austin City Council will approve a new tax rate with the budget but has already agreed to go no higher than a 6 percent increase.

The proposed earmark for the anti-displacement plans breaks down as follows:

  • $25 million for the purchase of low-income apartments
  • $28 million to “rapidly” provide housing on city-owned land
  • $3 million to fund the creation and survey of several conservation and historic districts, mainly in the eastern crescent of Austin, in hopes of encouraging the preservation of existing homes
  • $1.5 million for “right-to-stay” programs, which would provide money for house repairs and other expenses to help longtime East Austin residents remain in their homes
  • $800,000 to create an “anti-displacement office” at City Hall

The earmark presupposes the approval of a record-breaking $250 million affordable housing bond proposition, which is one of seven bond items being put to voters this November. All told, the bond package totals $925 million.

The so-called people’s plan was first announced in January — on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — in response to increasing gentrification in East Austin. Supporters say the program will counter social injustice and institutionalized racism that city officials have ignored or could exacerbate as a result of such proposed policies as the now-dead CodeNext, a comprehensive rewrite of the city’s land-use rules.

“This process (of gentrification) has continued, but yet no effective government intervention” has occurred, Linder said. “That’s unfortunate and has had consequences.”

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