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

Sept 10, 2018
Nelson Linder, president of the Austin branch of the NAACP, joins other East Austin activisits on Monday to discuss the group’s anti-displacement plan. The group is calling on the Austin City Council to fund a $58.3 million program that’s designed to halt the increasing gentrification of the eastern part of the city. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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:

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.”