New study looks at East Austin’s growth through longtime residents’ eyes

March 07, 2018
African-American legends are depicted on a mural at the corner of 12th and Chicon streets, a block north of the East Austin area where the University of Texas has been studying the effects of gentrification. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

While much of the conversation around East Austin gentrification focuses on those who are displaced, a University of Texas study released Wednesday highlights the concerns of a group that’s not often heard from: those who stayed.

About 74 percent of longtime East Austin residents in the study area held negative views of the rapid changes happening around them, according to the study by UT’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis.

Some of their concerns included a feeling that new restaurants are unwelcoming or not priced for them, as well as a sense that newcomers appear disinterested in building relationships with them.

But the longtime residents surveyed in this study also expressed a sense of pride they feel in refusing to move and in leaving a legacy of homeownership for their families.

“Few people have been able to hang on, and they aren’t hanging on because the changes are beneficial,” said Eric Tang, UT associate professor of African and African diaspora studies, who co-authored the study. “Rather, they’re hanging on because they feel a responsibility to black and brown East Austin — a right to the city.”

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For the study, UT surveyors conducted interviews with 63 residents within a census block near the Texas State Cemetery between East Seventh and East 11th Streets, as well as two blocks to the north. Residents surveyed had lived there an average of 38 years and had lived at the same address since at least 1999.

Some of the residents said “they now feel invisible in their own neighborhood,” without the friendships they used to enjoy with their previous neighbors. “Now, most of the neighbors are white and they don’t socialize,” said a 61-year-old African-American woman whose name was not included in the study.

With new eateries often popping up in East Austin, Tang said he was surprised to hear that 93 percent of the longtime residents surveyed did not visit those new restaurants. The residents pointed out that the new businesses didn’t cater to their tastes, and some claimed that the “new establishments were specifically unwelcoming to them,” the study said.

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Longtime residents face mounting pressures to move out daily. More than 70 percent of respondents said they had been routinely asked to sell their homes by prospective buyers, who often made “aggressive and insultingly low (offers) compared with the market value,” according to the study.

“(But this) was my husband’s grandmother’s house,” said a 64-year-old African-American woman interviewed for the study. “(We) want to keep it in the family for our children. Not giving this up to nobody.”

Tang said he hopes that this study, which is the latest in a series of three UT reports on the impact of gentrification in Austin, encourages city officials “to implement concrete measures that allow those who want to stay in their neighborhoods to stay.”

“East Austin has been resilient through segregation, civil rights, desegregation, urban renewal, the drug epidemics of the ’80s and ’90s, and the rezoning and redevelopment of downtown,” Tang said. “The people who stayed reflect that very sense of resilience that once encompassed all of black East Austin.”