Racism Task Force Seeks Return of Displaced People to Gentrified Areas

Elizabeth Findell, My Statesman, April 4, 2017

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.

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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.

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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.

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“I’m really proud we’ve gotten to this stage, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

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