—From the letter of transmittal from the Mayor Adler’s Anti-Displacement Task Force, November 16, 2018 Displacement today is not simply the legally and morally neutral workings of Austin’s real estate market. Displacement and exclusion are the strange fruit of public policies put in place by city government to disadvantage citizens of color at the behest of and for the economic advantage of the white citizens of Austin. An appropriate solution will require significant public spending and bold policies. Support for these will the widespread acknowledgement that is happening in Austin today is rooted in an ongoing and unaddressed legacy of racism. An equitable solution demands that Austin plant a new crop of inclusive community building practices whose purpose is to cultivate an economically, ethnically and culturally diverse city.
- DWD Coalition
- The Development Without Displacement coalition is comprised of representatives of various community advocates for affordable housing and anti-displacement programming in high-risk gentrifying areas and in mobility and Imagine Austin corridors.
- Recent study out of Boston U. – advantaged dominated the proceedings (older, men, longtime residents, local voters, and homeowners are more likely to participate in these meetings and more likely to oppose new construction than the general public. Residents who oppose new housing are also whiter.
- Housing affordability and inequality are national political issues. The newest tool against segregation and housing inequality is to let their streets get denser, through upzoning. Cities jumping on the densification train:
- Minneapolis led the charge last December. The Mayor says that the precision of their solution need to match the precision of the harm initially inflicted through “planning by bulldozer.”
- Others are on deck. Seattle loosened the zoning code in 27 transit oriented urban villages that will allow more homes to be built on single-family zoned plots., but only if a certain percentage of development is affordable. Seattle has tried a different tack that Minneapolis where under their Mandatory Housing Affordability rules will be paired with developer incentives: They’ll be faced with the choice to build more affordable housing or pay into an affordable housing fund. There are fears that the MHA will fail to protect existing affordable housing stock and that is doesn’t go far enough to nudge development in places that need it.
- Oregon has proposed a bill to eliminate single-family zoning statewide. Charlotte leaders are asking Minneapolis for advice.
- The most ambitious is California Scott Wiener’s SB 50- which allows developers to build more kinds of housing with the idea that this increase in housing stock is attractive as a path to lower costs.
- A frequent criticism holds that permitting more housing doesn’t necessarily mean more affordable housing, especially if developers are left to their own, market-influenced devices. In California, there is the fear that giving developers free rein to build taller will result in more displacement, not more accessibility. Given the intense demand for housing, increasing density only a little – or upzoning just in neighborhoods where it’s cheaper to build – could make matters worse.
- Even upzoning advocates recognize that reforming zoning on its own is not, has never been, and never will be a silver bullet. Several cities where upzoning has been proposed or employed, loosening building restrictions has been inextricably linked to other policy pushes. SB 50, for example, would enhance tenant protections and introduce stricter affordability requirements. For communities deemed sensitive to the risk of displacement, the bill will delay implementation by five years. In Seattle, the Mayor says that building more housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods will be a challenge. Where the exit-ramp to pay into a fund rather than build affordable housing exists, the majority of developers will choose to take it. This trend will contribute to wealth and racial segregation which could be avoided with on-site development.
- A recent study by Dallas Federal Reserve notes that amongst large U.S. metros, Texas metros have experienced the greatest increases in college-educated residents in area closest to the city center. Increases in college-educated residents is not as strong for neighborhoods farther from downtown, although the overall change is positive at all distances because the college educated population has increased throughout most major metro areas. Not surprisingly, median income has also surged in centrally located neighborhoods. Racially composition in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin and racial composition in the central cities has also changed considerably since 2000. The overall non-Hispanic white population share declined overall while the proportion of non-Hispanic whites increased in the urban core for all four metro areas . In each of the cities, centrally located neighborhoods in 2000 had the lowest median income. In Austin, for example, the average income quintile of tracts within three miles of downtown was 1.57 in 2000, compared with 3.29 for tracts farther than 20 miles from downtown. By 2015, the average income quintile of the same tracts within three miles of downtown rose to 2.50. This is higher than areas than 10-20 miles plus from downtown. Given that high-income and highly educated residents are flocking to central city neighborhoods – and that housing costs are rising in these locations – is there evidence of displacement of low-income residents. The Federal Reserve concludes that data analysis of at-risk demographic groups reveals that these groups experienced a population loss in the central cities and strong population growth in the outskirts. This is also known as the suburbanization of poverty.
- The Development Without Displacement Coalition is concerned with Austin’s Land Development Code (LDC) rewrite not because it is a housing production bill, but it falls short of equitable housing production standards – and without such standards, the LDC could do more harm than good. Here are some issues:
- The LDC does not truly have a meaningful equitable development policy for the LDC Instead an “Equity Overlay Zone” is proposed from Council Member Garza as communicated by her to the City Council:
- Equity Overlay
- Boundaries – Area should be delineated by the vulnerability in the UT Uprooted report.
- Preserve Existing Multifamily – For current affordable multi-family
- Map and zone to current structure and appropriate RM zone
- No new height (in the base of bonus)
- Onsite Affordability – Promote more onsite affordability
- Require onsite affordability to be at least 10% of the total and no fee in lien option
- Future revisions of the overlay – Overlay should be looked at and revised after
- Missing Middle Childcare
- Increase the number of children allowed in the childcare large room from a max
- Allow as a permitted use childcare large under R3, R4
- Allow a MUP for childcare commercial use under RMI
- Small Neighborhood Grocer
- Allow small neighborhood grocers as CUP in all zones
- Equity Overlay
Council Member Garza’s equity overlay zone is a tool and is necessary but not sufficient to prevent secondary displacement that will affect vulnerable areas undergoing gentrification and displacement. It simply de-intensifies the zoning for these areas without providing the tools and resources to prevent secondary displacement from upzoning.
- Funding for gentrification and displacement housing and mitigation strategies is inadequate. The Development Without Displacement provided the following COA Budget Request for the 2020 budget which was not considered. The City is only proposing to spend less than $9 million annually (see NHCD Housing Displacement Mitigation Strategies )
|SOURCES OF FUNDS||General Fund One-Time|
|Corridor Mobility Affordable Housing||Designate $10 million for Corridor Housing Preservation and to ensure transit access to jobs and preservation of affordable rental units targeted to construction Corridors in the Eastern Crescent that have high vulnerability and development pressure for displacement||$10.00|
|Corridor Mobility Small Business Preservation||Designate $2 million for Corridor Small Business Preservation targeted to construction Corridors in the Eastern Crescent that have high vulnerability and development pressure for displacement||$2.0|
|Expand Use of Neighborhood Conservation Combined Districts and Historic Districts||Develop and Implement 20 NCCD plans||$1.00|
|Develop and Implement 20 historic preservation plans||$1.00|
|Support for historic preservation surveying of homes/buildings in low-income gentrifying areas not surveyed yet.||$1.0|
|Increase Housing Trust Fund for Very-Low Income Residents||Increase resources and services for very low-income residents in gentrifying areas to stay||$3.0|
|Certificates of Obligation (CO)||Issue COs and designate these funds for Gentrification and Displacement targeted at East Crescent Corridors for affordable housing and displacement mitigation activities||($18.0)|
- LDC and Affordability Observations
- Affordability – Affordability is as much about urban design as it is about brick and mortar costs. Housing affordability is not simply the cost of the home itself. An affordable home must be a home with access to jobs, goods and services, educational, medical and governmental institutions and entertainment and recreational venues. The LDC offers limited income-restricted housing and upzoning isn’t a sufficient affordability program in of itself.
- Current and proposed public investment is planned and to be put in place for:
- Opportunity Zones
- Equitable Development is lacking
- Equitable Development is community development and urban planning aimed at revitalizing disinvested communities and ensuring that all residents of urban places can shape urban development and benefit from economic growth in an equitable fashion. There is no equitable development analytical framework and scorecard in place that coordinates and assesses place-based public and private investments, programs, and policies in neighborhoods to meet the needs of marginalized populations and to reduce disparities, providing access to education, living wage employment, healthcare, healthy environment, small business preservation, affordable housing and transportation. UT’s displacement risk index identifies areas of Austin where displacement of marginalized is more likely to occur and where opportunity exists with good access to services and amenities. The City attempted through the Mayor’s office several years ago to implement an equitable development framework through its “Spirit of East Austin” initiative. But due to lack of focus and funding the program never saw fruition.
- Current and proposed public investment is planned and to be put in place for:
- Fiscal/Budget Implications
- The costs of gentrification are the displacement of the poor along with small and unique businesses, but public officials make development decisions based on revenue as much or more than community need. Gentrification provides a fiscal windfall for city government. More affluent residents contribute more income to city coffers and appreciating home values beget higher property tax revenue. These increased tax revenues allow the city to increase investment in infrastructure, public transportation, public schools, law enforcement, and other services. Urban core jurisdictions increasingly opt for large scale developments like big box retail stores, hotels, stadiums, and expanded convention centers that draw visitors from across the region. These developments often directly displace community-serving and culturally oriented businesses, opening wounds for communities that were negatively impacted by earlier urban renewal. Moreover, upzoning will provide the revenues from expanded development to assist in balancing the city budget. Due to the effect of the State of Texas’ law that reduced the property tax revenue growth factor in the State-mandated rollback rate calculation from 8% to 3.5%, the General Fund is projected to begin experiencing structural imbalance beginning in FY 2012-22. The expected gap in FY2021-22 is $8.0 million increasing to $27 million in 2023-24.
- Gentrification and Displacement budgeted funds are modest. Upcoming proposed and funded public investment priorities are going to “crowd out” funding capacity for gentrification and displacement mitigation and affordable housing.
- $750 million – Transportation Corridor
- $2 billion to $6 billion – Public Transit System
- $ Other priorities – Homelessness (in this year’s budget overall additional Homelessness housing and programming is budgeted at $56,245,200 and $13,500,000 for housing displacement
- City funding tools are limited. Primarily:
- Tax Increment Financing – City policy capped at 5% and will need a policy change
- Federal Funding – the White House would make drastic cuts to the CDBG, HOME Investment Partnerships, the Housing Trust fund and others
- GO Bonds – Additional bonds are needed in 5 years
- Low Income Housing Tax Credits – Only 90 Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties with 9,794 units serve the Eastern Crescent’s 412,496 population. The Housing Authority recently bought a 452-unit apartment complex in SE Austin which will be rented to tenants earning no more than 80% of median family income
- Repurposing public property – there is still after many years of discussion about building affordable housing on public property a lack of momentum and focus on accelerating this objective.
- Affordable Housing pipeline
- Strategic Housing Blueprint calls for 60,000 affordable units to be added to the city’s housing stock. A rough calculation including the LDC generated Income-Restricted Housing and other programs shows that this is about 3,600 affordable housing units per year.
- Income-Restricted Housing. Based on the last four years total the average affordable housing units added was about 1,300 per year.
- Bond Funds. The City has recently approved $250 million in general obligation (G.O. bonds) for affordable housing through the November 2018 bond election. G.O. bonds have been approved three times by Austin voters and have paid for affordable housing with services to support at-risk families. In 2006, $55 million in affordable bonds created 3,400 affordable units. The 2013 G.O. $65 million affordable bond program created 2,253 affordable units. It is estimated that 7,000 affordable units could be created through the $250 million in voter-approved bonds over five years or an average of 1,400 per year.
- Other Income-Restricted Housing. There are also 11,200 income-restricted housing units in the “pipeline” which will be added to Austin’s housing stock in the coming years.
- LDC Income-Restricted Housing. Close to 45% of the overall capacity of 397,000 is from bonus market-rate units (178,000). This assumes that the market will buy-into the affordable housing bonus program producing only 9,000 bonus income-restricted units (only 2%) over 10 years.
- The additional affordable housing is measured against displacement losses which has been estimated in ranges from as 49,000 residents (in current highly vulnerable areas) to over 178,000 residents (in highly vulnerable and areas subject to displacement).
- LDC – current proposed
- Granting of new entitlements in areas currently or susceptible to gentrification will be limited so as to reduce displacement and disincentivize the redevelopment of multi-development residential development, unless substantial increases in long-term affordable housing will be otherwise achieved. Transition areas will be shallower along corridors in areas vulnerable to displacement
- Existing market rate affordable multifamily shall not be mapped to be upzoned
- Strategic Housing Blueprint calls for 60,000 affordable units to be added to the city’s housing stock. A rough calculation including the LDC generated Income-Restricted Housing and other programs shows that this is about 3,600 affordable housing units per year.
- LDC Recommendations
- Delay implementation in “sensitive communities” that are at-risk of or undergoing gentrification. It is important to ensure that these neighborhoods with displacement pressure have time to plan for and implement anti-displacement strategies. A new geographic lens is needed to define the sensitive community geography using a dedicated stakeholder engagement and research process. First policy goals must be clearly established. Using those parameters, researchers can then determine a methodology to identify sensitive communities in ways that align with those goals.
Note that other cities like Seattle in upzoning found that the displacement of low-income households correlated more strongly with high-opportunity areas than it did with high risk displacement areas. This correlation between areas should be examined that areas have grown more in terms of adding housing units with an increase in the percentage of low-income households. In Seattle, areas that have grown the most have retained the most low-income households.
- Implement a formal Equitable Development program similar to Seattle that analyzes impacts on displacement and opportunity related to their growth strategy. There is no single path to equitable growth; rather, multiple intersecting and complementary strategies needed to protect against displacement, preserve existing affordability, and produce new affordable housing. The equitable development framework that they have developed recognizes that market forces alone will not be able to produce equitable growth. While stabilizing housing affordability and ensuring appropriate amenities are crucial components of neighborhood planning, income and asset creation are critical to ensuring resident well-being as the neighborhood economy improves. Providing needed resident services – childcare, transportation, a basic retail sector and access to health care- is a precondition for success. Tying public investment to local-hire and living-wage provisions or otherwise connecting land use decisions to local asset creation can significantly mitigate negative displacement pressures by bringing some of the of benefits of the new investment to existing residents.
- Create an ordinance and/or new Chapter in the LDC that does the following:
- Require the city to study whether neighborhood wide rezonings have spurred indirect displacement for existing area residents. The City lacks data on whether plans to reshape communities into denser development hubs has pushed out existing tenants. This information gap would require the City to evaluate if new development and socioeconomic changes brought on by rezonings have contributed to indirect displacement impacts. This ordinance will give the City a fuller picture on how rezonings affect residential displacement and will inform policy decisions around land use moving forward.
- Review whether the City will create enough affordable housing onsite because developers can pay an in-lieu fee rather than building affordable housing on-site which may lead to low-income residents being displaced.
- Allocate financial capacity as a priority for the City to target funds for gentrification and displacement similarly to the “laser focus” communicated by City Manager Cronk for homelessness.
- Identify “sensitive communities” that can choose to delay implementation of rezoning for a period of five years to allow time for community planning. The goals of the community plans are to identify zoning and other policies that encourage multifamily housing development at a range of income levels to meet unmet needs, protect vulnerable residents from displacement, and address other locally identified priorities. Sensitive area factors would include income, unemployment, poverty, segregation and other factors.
- Support for small area plans for neighborhoods. The City’s adopted neighborhood planning areas are a guide for the City’s LDC infill plans. When Seattle considered changing the rules for development in neighborhoods throughout the city, they began this process neighborhood by neighborhood rather than proposing a single piece of legislation to upzone 27 neighborhoods at once. Analyzing so many changes at once began an impossible task resulting in meaningless generalities, omissions, misleading statements and outright inaccuracies. Prior to this Seattle engaged in an extensive bottom-up, neighborhood specific planning process. The goal was to allow higher density in a way that would protect the quality of each neighborhood. Roughly 30,000 citizens of Seattle worked on these neighborhood plans. But in 2015, the Mayor entered into a “Grand Bargain” with developers and affordable housing advocates. The so-called “grand” bargain was consummated only by omitting a key constituency from the agreement – impacted residents. The neighborhood plans were sidelined. The City did not do a localized assessment of key issues affecting neighborhoods including displacement and the overall loss of livability in each neighborhood. To get this right for Austin, the ordinance/chapter should order neighborhood-specific environmental, social, and economic impact and bottom-up citizen input.
- Create an ordinance and/or new Chapter in the LDC that does the following:
- Gentrification, Displacement, and Role of Public Investment
- Changing economics, demographics, and physical forms of metro areas have fostered opportunity for some and hardship for others.
- Definitions and impacts of gentrification have been debated for 50 years. Central to these debates are who bears the burden and who reaps the benefits of change.
- Displacement is a pressing concern. Anxieties about residential, cultural, and job displacement reflect the lived experiences of neighborhood change and social memories of displacements past.
- Changes stem not just from private sector but government intervention. These investments put government at risk of becoming an agent of gentrification and displacement. The extent of which public investment catalyze residential and small business displacement is not well-defined or quantified in the research.
- Public investment encompasses a wide array of direct activities and indirect policy actions.
- Will Rezoning Cause or Resist Displacement?
- Some city officials stand by the idea that rezonings tied to a variety of community improvements will not only revitalize communities that have long suffered from disinvestment but will in fact alleviate the affordability crisis. They argue that boosting the housing supply through growth will ease demand pressures on the rental market and that mandatory or voluntary inclusionary housing policy which requires developers benefitting from an upzoning to rent a portion of units at below-market rates, will ensure the creation of low-income housing; that additional investments will preserve existing affordable housing.
- Community members note the disappearance of Latino and Black community members abetted by public policy is already occurring with affordable housing being tore down to build luxury housing. Upzoning becomes gentrification on steroids.
- How we did end up here- with everyone professing the same goal of affordability and such radically divergent opinions of the strategy? Upzoning advocates blame the community’s misunderstanding of what causes displacement, while the community contend that city officials are beholden to real estate interest.
- Increasing density may help ease the housing shortage but without including measures to reduce segregation, increase equity, and lift up disadvantaged communities is it likely to replicate existing disparities.
- Drilling down – Central disagreement – whether upzoning can have a destabilizing effect on the existing housing in a neighborhood. The upzoning and actual development that follows can transform a neighborhood into a destination, increasing housing in that neighborhood and prompting landlords to raise rents.
- Low-income renters who cannot easily adjust to increases in housing prices would thus be at risk of eviction.
- Public officials refute the assertion that market-rate housing could itself be a cause of displacement. Data shows dramatic neighborhood demographic change following rezonings, but scholars disagree whether this data proves a causal relation between the rezonings and displacement.
- What doe experts say about the impact of adding market-rate housing? City officials argue that that city has limited tools at its disposal to address the affordability crisis, which means harnessing the private market to create both market-rate and affordable housing. They say, they could never subsidize their way out and need a certain amount of private-market activity- with new ground rules, with new stipulations – to put up the maximum number of apartments. In other words: tackle the crisis by boosting supply across the board., which will reduce competition for older housing and ease demand pressure, while also using subsidies to ensure some units go to low-income families.
- Community advocates say that the City’s choice to encourage a mix of market-rate construction rather than focusing on subsidizing housing for the lowest income is one that comes with grave risks. Living in an upzoned neighborhood the narratives goes: the affordable housing created might not be actually affordable to you and the majority is so expensive that its unaffordable to everyone in the neighborhood. Wealthier newcomers move in, with the disposable income to support new expensive amenities. As the neighborhood becomes increasingly popular, landlords begin harassing rent-stabilized tenants and real-estate brokers hound long-term homeowners will all-cash offers. Soon your landlord is giving you the ultimatum: agree to a whooping rent increase or move out.
- Are these risks real, and if so, is there any justification for trying to boost market-rate supply?
- Scholars acknowledge that introduction of market-rate development could raise prices but have different opinions on whether supply is still an important goal, and on how much to worry about displacement.
- NYU Furman Center – adding new market-rate housing to a neighborhood doesn’t always translate into lower-prices nearby and could channel demand into that neighborhood raising rents in the short terms.
- From Hunter College – the real problem driving the affordability crisis is keeping the lid on housing prices and that all neighborhoods benefit in the long-run if they allow for the production of new units.
- Another from Hunter College – the real problem driving affordability crisis is the soaring costs of land, in great part as a result of city zoning actions. Not convinced that the City needs to construct more housing.
- Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City – low income neighborhoods in central locations, allowing market-rate development poses a massive displacement threat.
- MIT – Just saying no supply, no new growth is definitely a mistake, but you have to be careful about what kind of growth you promote. The solution is a more substantial portion of subsidized, low-income housing stock, but also unsubsidized construction in neighborhoods where market-rate units would not be price-prohibitive to low-income families, and in neighborhoods where there might be less risk that the new housing would induce displacement of low-income residents.
- Are there stats to prove upzonings cause displacement?
- Few cities have undertaken studies of the overall effects of rezonings and many cities do not collect data about the reasons residents leave their neighborhoods. What we do know is neighborhoods demographics looked before and after rezonings.
- There are three categorized or rezoning:
- Hybrid rezonings that limit the redevelopment of residential areas while allowing growth on major commercial corridor
- Downzonings which reduce density and preserve neighborhood character
- An MIT researcher found that all three experienced greater increases in rent, median income, and proportions of white residents than the city as a whole. The reduced presence of Latino, Black and poor residents was particularly extreme in hybrid neighborhoods., possibly suggesting those rezonings may have been the worst recipe for residential displacement.
- A study of zoning changes in Chicago (Urban Affairs Review) by MIT finds that they led to higher, not lower local home prices, while having no discernable impact on local housing supply. The comparison was of a set of zoning reforms to encourage development around transit stops with an expanded upzoned area and increased incentives for more building intensity. There were two conclusions:
- There was no effect from zoning changes on housing supply
- Instead of falling prices, as the conventional wisdom predicts, the study found the opposite. Housing prices rose on the parcels and in projects that were upzoning, notably those where building sizes increased. The study doesn’t invalidate the idea that increases in the number of housing units won’t eventually lead to lower prices overall, but what the study does show is what happens on specific lots and areas that are upzoned. “Even if upzonings – in the medium or longer term- increases in number of housing units (though I do not find evidence for or against this in the study), we still will have to contend with the potential that the short-term impacts of the changes are higher home prices and likely higher rents for those directly affected by the change, especially new development, as everyone knows, takes many years to get underway. The speculation will come first.” Simply liberalizing zoning for denser development will not address the critical need to provide affordable housing for less advantaged people. Upzoning isn’t a sufficient affordability program in of itself.
“The Development Without Displacement Coalition held its first press conference Wednesday morning at City Hall, announcing its intent to open dialogue with representatives from Apple, Google, Facebook and other major employers who have drawn thousands of highly paid workers to Austin in recent decades. Those high incomes have driven up area home prices by 40 percent in the past five years, causing widespread gentrification in East Austin and other pockets of the city.” https://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2019/11/anti-displacement-advocates-seek-2-billion-from-tech-giants-to-fund-housing/
“Displacement today is not simply the legally and morally neutral workings of Austin’s real estate market. Displacement and exclusion are the strange fruit of public policies put in place by city government to disadvantage citizens of color at the behest of and for the economic advantage of the white citizens of Austin.” (Mayor Adler’s Anti-Displacement Task Force) https://eqcitieshome.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/fr-info-to-pc-afford-committe-110219-2.pdf
By Frank Rodriguez Posted Sep 8, 2019 at 8:47 AM
Last month, the Austin City Council took a series of big steps to address the city’s homelessness problem. They approved a new shelter, hired a homeless strategy officer, and boosted next year’s budget for homeless services to $62.7 million.
It’s time for Austin’s leaders to devote the same sort of resources to our community’s displacement crisis.
Over the past 20 years, gentrification, property taxes, and the rising cost of living have displaced tens of thousands of local residents from their homes. Many have left Austin altogether.
Low-income Austinites of color have been the most vulnerable: From 2000 to 2010, Austin was the only fast-growing city in the United States whose share of the African American population fell, and along with Denver it had the most Hispanic residents displaced from their neighborhoods between 2000 and 2013.
Our city council is aware of the problem. It has issued more than 500 resolutions and recommendations on displacement and low-income housing in the last two decades, and in 2017 and 2018 it convened task forces on the issue. Recommendations made by the task forces and other studies echoed those made by The People’s Plan, an independent initiative by East Austin neighborhood activists. The task forces, studies and The People’s Plan highlighted the need to preserve existing housing in gentrification-prone areas.
The city’s Strategic Housing Blueprint lays out a solid list of anti-displacement goals, but city officials have taken little meaningful action and seem more interested in redeveloping Austin’s neighborhoods for newcomers than protecting the people who live there now.
This social justice issue needs to change—and we can start today.
In August, the Development Without Displacement coalition called for a anti-displacement head, staff and budget to address displacement. It identified $18 million in the city’s 2020 budget that can be immediately reallocated for four key anti-displacement programs. Getting them off the ground will help vulnerable Austinites stay in their homes, and it won’t impact local taxpayers because the money comes from other sources besides the city general fund.
Of that $18 million amount, $10 million should be set aside for the preservation of low-income rental units along transit corridors in the city’s Eastern Crescent, a swath of fast-gentrifying neighborhoods that run from Montopolis to North Austin’s eastern edge. That will help ensure existing residents can remain in housing with easy access to transportation and employment.
Another $2 million should be reserved to preserve businesses along those same corridors, small companies that might otherwise succumb to rising rents and the growing competition from corporate newcomers.
The city should also earmark $2 million to develop and implement plans for 20 Neighborhood Conservation Combined Districts and 20 Historic Districts, all in lower-income, gentrifying areas. An additional $1 million should be set aside for locating historic homes and buildings that haven’t been identified within those neighborhoods. Efforts like these do more than protect Austin’s architectural history: They help stop the destruction of close-knit, multi-generational neighborhoods populated by people of modest means.
And $3 million should be allocated to a new Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, increasing the resources and services that the poorest residents of Austin’s most gentrification-prone neighborhoods need in order to stay in their homes.
Displacement is a dangerous byproduct of our region’s unprecedented growth. It’s fueling our housing crisis. it’s worsening socioeconomic inequality, and it’s tearing Austin families apart. So it’s time for the City of Austin to put its money where its mouth is. Let’s begin treating this problem with the seriousness that it deserves.
Rodriguez is the CEO of Equitable Cities, a nonprofit group that addresses widening gaps in income and equity in U.S. cities. He was a senior policy advisor to Austin Mayor Steve Adler from 2015 to 2017.
The newly formed coalition, Development Without Displacement (DWD) is focused on ensuring the timely and focused implementation of housing preservation and development combined with displacement interventions and mitigation strategies and tactics. We recommend several budgetary and non-budgetary actions. The attached report is primarily a summary of research previously conducted including noteworthy trends and data points. Our observations and conclusions are as follows:
Link to download the full report:
Homelessness in America is a national tragedy because of a combination of ill-conceived public policy, inadequate funding, negative stereotypes, and public fatigue and this in turn has allowed the crisis of homelessness to grow to epidemic proportions. The root causes of homelessness are structural: lack of affordable housing, economic immobility, and systemic racism. Homelessness reflects the failure of our social systems to serve people of all racial and ethnic groups equally in housing, education, employment, wealth accumulation, health care, and justice. The below information provided is simply an accumulation of information about homelessness.
There is no magic formula in solving homelessness. Austin is clearly attempting to address the issue with more housing and more services. Mayor Adler recently returned from a West Coast trip to observe and discuss learned from key cities. According to news accounts it reassured him that the Austin City Council is doing what they believe is right in addressing the issue before the situation goes from bad to worst. The Mayor notes that “if you ask them what they had wish they had done they’re would’ve said they wished they had acted sooner before their challenges just multiplied and mushroomed.” The Mayor adds “that’s the lesson overwhelmingly, build more homes, build more opportunities so there are places for people to go. We have shelter capacity in our city that we’re not using right now because we don’t have the resources to provide the support services to operate them at full capacity.”
In those cities where homelessness has grown to epic proportions, homelessness is a complex issue and has many sides where compassion gives way to anger where communities run out of patience with a daily view of sidewalks filled with tents and shopping carts having to step over individuals camped on the street and fear that they may catch some disease of placing themselves and their children in harm’s way.
Voters have supported and approved measures to build more permanent housing and provide more services to the homeless. But critics say more needs to be done, especially in finding short-term solutions and instituting stricter enforcement of laws to better control the makeshift public encampments. Public values are giving way to property values that are under siege. As homelessness continues to grow fear and anger are threatening to take the problem in a new, darker direction. In Austin this has become apparent with widespread criticism of the Austin City Council that recently made changes to ordinances that decriminalize existing sit/lie and camping ordinances. Other cities are walking back previous similar bans. Others are supporting existing bans. For example, Denver’s 300 initiative “Right to Survive” was defeated in May 2019 that would have effectively overturned Denver’s camping ban and allow homeless people to camp in outdoor public spaces like parks, sidewalks and vehicles.
This briefing paper relies on various newspaper and media sources and policy briefs from various public policy sources. Sources are not listed but are available upon request.
City Policies to Decriminalize the Homeless
Cities are increasingly enacting policies that restrict the visibly homeless from public spaces. At least 70 U.S. cities, including many of the “progressive cities along the west coast have come from some form of ordinance restricting sitting or lying on sidewalks in central city areas during business hours. The typical two sides to promoting and resisting sit/lie ordinances are neoliberal forces and right to the city forces.
The widespread strategy for controlling the use of public space by the very poor is one in a suite of “neoliberal” policies that shape the geographies of public space in cities in to serve the needs of capital. Neoliberal thought is based on the idea that the economy is best run by individuals working in their self-interest, organized through market forces. Neoliberal policies are a powerful influence on the shape of the city, including poor people’s experience of it. The current neoliberal argument is that cities must have clean and safe downtown areas, which the presence of homeless bodies impedes and the growth machine work to support the goals of “capital” to pressure local government to make changes that benefit business over the needs of residents.
The resistance to neoliberal forces sometimes called “right to the city” is present to varying degrees and forms in the cities. The resistance takes shape as people enact their rights to the city. With sit/lie ordinances, there is a complex relationship between neoliberalism and rights of residents to use the city that occurs during the local policy-making process. While the right to the city is a call for social justice for resistance, having a right to the city in and of itself doesn’t necessarily create a more socially just city. These policies have ramifications in daily life for those who are most impacted by them, and they are also key elements in the political, social, and cultural conflicts over the rights to the city.
The right to the city movement relies on the 9thCircuit Court decision that homeless people can’t be prosecuted for sleeping of public property unless alternative shelter is available. Prosecuting homeless people with no other place to sleep violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. However, there is some dissent on the court because this ruling is in conflict with reasoning underlying decisions on two other federal appeals courts. One of the cases upheld an ordinance barring camping on public property. The other upheld an ordinance criminalizing the public possession of alcohol as applied to homeless alcoholics.
Cities have been increasingly using sit/lie laws to control homeless people, making it a national policy issue. The National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty found that at least 30 percent of the 235 cities they surveyed have sit/lie ordinances. These cities are highly concentrated along the more urbanized west and east coast where high cost of living and housing set the backdrop for high numbers of visibly people living in public spaces. With the increasing numbers of people living in poverty, the conflicts over public space are likely to grow.
Major cities on the West Coast have enacted sit/lie ordinances then walked back them back because of the impacts associated with increasing homelessness and conditions that have worsened the health and safety of the cities. In 2010, San Francisco began discussing a sit/lie ordinance and grassroots opposition to it forced a vote down on such an ordinance. But the ordinance was put on a later ballot by the Mayor as Proposition L and passed with 54% of the votes. Enforcement of the ordinance began in 2011. In Portland, opposition to a sit/lie ordinance was confrontational. The Mayor supported a quality of life ordinance, but the ordinance was shut down by the courts. Later the Council passed another ordinance in 2004 that was also found to be unconstitutional. In a March 2019 report, Oregon’s general population represents 1.3 percent of the total U.S. population, but its homeless population is proportionately twice as larger, reaching 2.6 percent of the U.S. total. The report notes that Oregon’s high rents make the crisis more severe than those in most states and, left unabated, they will contribute to a growing homeless population going forward. The report recommends a number of policies for reducing homelessness in Oregon, including increased production of all kinds of housing, means-test rent subsidies for low-income households, targeted, intensive services for high-needs individuals, and more emergency shelters a last resort.
News stories round up the usual suspects for homelessness increases: high rents, low-paying jobs, drugs, alcohol, mental illness, domestic violence, and the release of prison or jail inmates without rehabilitation programs. But one reason for the exponential increase in homeless encampments is rarely mentioned: In 2017, Los Angeles made an agreement with the ACLU to allow people to sleep on the streets throughout the city.
It was a settlement of the Jones v. Los Angeles lawsuit, after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the enforcement of the LA’s law against sleeping on the streets was unconstitutional. Municipal Code section 41.18(d) read, “No person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public way, “unless they were attending a parade.
The Ninth Circuit declared section 41.18(d) “one of the most restrictive municipal laws regulating public spaces in the United States. “The Court noted that other cities, Las Vegas, for example, required some other conduct in combination with sitting, lying or sleeping – like blocking a public way- before it was a crime. But in LA, just the act of sitting, lying, or sleeping on the street or sidewalk was illegal. The Ninth Circuit ruled that “Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles.” The city could have appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that it has a compelling reason to prohibit people from sitting, lying, or sleeping on sidewalks. It could have also changed the law to make it more narrowly tailored. But it didn’t.
Instead the city settled with ACLU, agreeing not to enforce section 41.18(d) anywhere in the city between the hours 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. until another 1,250 units of housing for the chronically homeless were constructed, including at least 625 in the downtown Skid Row area. By agreeing to the settlement, the ACLU gave up the ability to use the Ninth Circuit ruling as a precedent for future lawsuits, but they can still sue. So, LA is still abiding by the Jones agreement even though in 2015, the City reported that the requirements of the settlement had been met. Now the City has gone even further. In November 2107, voters approved Measure HHH, a parcel tax to fund $1.2 billion of housing and an increase in the sales tax to fund supportive services.
City Policies to Reduce Homelessness
Most strategies for reducing homelessness follow the policies like those recommended for Oregon. In Los Angeles, homelessness counts increased by 42% from 2010 to 2017 which now totals over 55,000. A report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) states that many factors contributed to such large increases in homelessness including increases in median rent over two decades by over 32% while median renter income decreased by 3% (adjusting for inflation) over the same time period. LAHSA’s report states that there are approximately over 9,500 people living in tents or encampments across Los Angeles. A study by Zillow shows that you start to see a rising rate of homelessness once a city’s average rent reaches 22 percent of median income, and an even more rapid rate of increase once that number hits 32 percent. In Los Angeles, the average rent is 49 percent of median income.
Los Angeles has become a brutal style of homelessness. Seventy-five percent of the city’s homeless population is unsheltered, typhus and typhoid threaten to create a public-health emergency, and a growing number of homeless people are either the perpetrators or the victims of violent crime.
Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, a Jewish Mexican American Rhodes Scholar, was once thinking about running for President is now in the midst of a homelessness crisis that could doom his political future. The Mayor’s response has been to increase public spending on homelessness sharply, but he’s had very little to show for it. He unveiled his “A Bridge Home Initiative”” to establish a temporary, emergency shelter in each of the City’s 15 Council districts, totaling 1,500 beds. A Bridge Home was framed as a solution to bridge the gap between sleeping on the streets and finding supportive, longer-term housing (hence, bridge housing). The expectation was that these bridge housing sites would be fast-tracked “from application to construction, allowing those that meet legal and environmental standards to open their doors in as little as 32 weeks.” His plan to build emergency shelters in all 15 districts of the city have been stalled by red tape and community resistance. In the first year of A Bridge Home, city officials say four sites have opened with 222 total beds. The biggest challenge to the Deputy L.A. Mayor is that there’s been higher site and building costs than the City anticipated. The $20 million city for fund for bridge housing that the Mayor announced in 2018 is tapped out.
The City of Austin recently approved the purchase of a commercial building for $8.6 million to provide 100 beds for the homeless in South Austin to serve as a homeless shelter that attempts to mirror Mayor Garcetti’s A Bridge Home. The facility will not operate as a drop-in facility with the client model to move people out of homelessness. Mayor Adler in his tour of L.A., has touted the L.A. and Seattle Bridge Housing as temporary places for people to stay who are transitioning off the streets and into permanent housing.
A new sales tax boosted for the city’s budget for dealing with homelessness to more than $600 million or $20,000 per homeless person, while a bond issuance brought in $1.2 billion to go toward constructing an estimated 10,000 housing units over the next decade, all of which would be preserved for people transitioning off the street. Los Angeles have taken about 16 percent of the funds from its recent sales-tax increase and packaged it as vouchers to offer to a share of its homeless population, allowing them to buy into the marketplace with the understanding that the their subsidy will fade over the course of a year, shifting the burden onto the new renter. But the steep monthly rent increases wash out the vouchers as the recipients are unable to find more than low-wage, part-time work.
The L.A. Mayor had touted the 20,000 people the city had moved off the street and into some form of housing. But while helping move 380 people off the streets each, some 480 others were joining the ranks of L.A. homelessness.
A large share of the city’s homeless are thought to mentally ill and is believed to be 25 percent. The City’s mild climate makes living outdoors a more viable option than in colder communities. L.A. also attracts an enormous number of homeless young adults from elsewhere in the U.S. This group grew by 25 percent in 2019.
The conventional public policy is that reforms to increase the supply of housing and if L.A,’s median rent can be pushed downward as a result of denser building then the city will have the breathing room to focus on helping the hardest cases. One of the ironies of the homelessness disaster is that homelessness is a problem most pronounced in successful cities, and the argument is that homelessness is not the product of poverty per se. Rather, homelessness is in no small part an artifact of being poor in a place where there is ferocious competition for a severely constrained supply of homes that drives up rent. Governor Newsome has set the goal of building 3.5 million new housing units in California over the next seven years, making an implicit acknowledgement that insufficient housing supply was the driving force behind the state’s high rents. This was considered a controversial stance for a progressive politician whose allies offer blame the “neoliberal” profit hungry landlords.
Scott Wiener, a state senator and one of the most progressive politicos from San Francisco introduced S.B. 50 that would have preempted local restrictions on density within neighborhoods with public transportation or in close proximity to employment centers.
The bill died in committee sunk by “anti-growth” legislators who denounced it as a threat to local control. The legislators wanted to preserve single-family neighborhoods in LA to what they perceived as disruptive change by the replacement of single-family homes with apartment buildings. These legislators are being targeted as contributing to the continuing swaths of LA into unsanitary homeless encampments. Mayor Garcetti refused to sign a City Council resolution denouncing S.B. 50 but he didn’t come out in favor it either. He suggested that while allowing the construction of duplexes and triplexes in keeping with the character of existing single-family neighborhoods, he felt Wiener’s bill went much too far.
City of Austin and the Homeless
The City of Austin Auditor has recently completed a series of audits to address the issue of homelessness. The four audits found:
· City Policies – November 2017 – The enforcement of certain city ordinances may create issues for people attempting to exit homelessness. Additionally, it noted that enforcement of these ordinances did not appear to be an effective or efficient way to connect people experiencing homelessness to the services they needed. Lastly, the report indicated that other U.S. cities faced lawsuits related to the enforcement of similar ordinances. The audit noted that, “in some of those cases, rulings against the cities were based on conditions that also appeared to exist in Austin.”
· Coordination – December 2017 – The report noted that while many City departments deal with homelessness in some way, the City had only recently started to coordinate its homelessness assistance efforts. It listed several U.S. cities which had created a position to coordinate homelessness assistance efforts in their area.
· Resource Allocation – May 2018 – The report found that the City did not have a complete understanding of the size or needs of the homeless population and it was unclear whether the City was effectively allocating resources for homelessness assistance. The report that the City was not meeting its goal for creating new units of Permanent Supportive Housing, which led to a greater need for short-term services.
· Outcomes – February 2019 – The report concluded that although homelessness remains a significant problem for the City, Austin has actively engaged in addressing the issue. However, the report noted that homelessness service providers frequently did not meet contract performance goals, which limited the City’s ability to assist the homeless population. The report also found that the City did not measure the long-term success of its homelessness assistance efforts and resources to prevent people from experiencing homelessness were not sufficient or effectively targeted to those most-at-risk. Lastly, that case management services could be improved in order to reduce inefficiencies and better connect people to services.
Against this backdrop of audits, the Austin City Council has recently undertaken specific actions:
· Homelessness was adopted as the highest priority for the budget.
In April 2019 the City Council approved an action plan which requests an additional $30 million annually to achieve a functional zero homelessness rate, meaning that the number of people experiencing homelessness never exceeds the number returning to housing.
The Council has also recently appropriated funds to support permanent supportive housing along with Central Health, the Episcopal Foundation, Travis County, and Seton Hospital. The program is a “Pay for Success” model where private investors will invest $15 million and reimbursed by the end payers once desired outcomes are achieved. The program aims to create 250 housing units serving 250-300 individuals.
The Mayor has promoted the idea of bringing about new funds for homelessness needs through the expansion of the Convention Center where the Hotel Industry will create a Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID) and levy a 2% room charge. The estimated proceeds of the TPID is $21 million annually with the Mayor proposing to share 40% of these proceeds or $8 million annually for homelessness needs. The Waller Creek Tax Increment Financing District is also expected to invest in homelessness estimated at $30 million.
· The City recently passed a $250 million bond program for Affordable Housing. The money would be fund $100 million for land acquisition for affordable housing development; $98 million into rental housing development; $28 million into a homeownership program and another $28 million into home repairs and rehabilitation.
· The City created a new position, A Homeless Strategy Officer to focus on homelessness across the City
· Amended three ordinances
o Camping in Public Areas Prohibited
o Solicitation Prohibited (now known as Aggressive Confrontation)
o Sitting or Lying Down Prohibited (now known as Obstruction
Generally, the previous ordinances prohibited the act of camping, sitting, or lying down in certain pubic areas. The amended ordinances which took effect on July 1, 2019 focus primarily on behaviors by continuing to prohibit aggressive conduct, behavior that unreasonably obstructs public property, and behavior that endangers public health or safety. However, the amended ordinances decriminalize a range of non-threatening or non-hazardous behavior so people experiencing homelessness many encounter fewer difficulties in finding permanent housing. Private property owners may still prohibit camping or sleeping by persons on their property, including outdoor common areas.
Austin Homelessness Facts
· 2,255 persons counted as experiencing homelessness in point-of-time (PIT) counts in 2019 up from 2,147 PIT in 2018.
· 2,255 persons consist of 1,086 unsheltered and 1,169 sheltered.
· The Unsheltered in Council districts consist of:
o District 1 – 55
o District 2 – 34
o District 3 – 177
o District 4 – 77
o District 5 – 53
o District 6 – 24
o District 7 – 118
o District 8 – 54
o District 9 – 439
o District 10 – 6
· One is six Austin residents’ lives in poverty. The rate is lower than San Antonio’s – nearly one in five – but higher than comparably sized San Francisco’s – close to one in eight.
· More than a third of Travis County households are cost-burdened, in that they spend more than 30 percent – the standard recommended by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – of their total income on housing.
· It is estimated that there are more than five evictions per day in Austin, a rate that is estimated to be conservative.
· There is limited shelter capacity with the Salvation Army having 300 beds of which there are beds for women and children and the ARCH has 190 beds for men only.
· Individuals experiencing homelessness may access housing services through the following:
o Through the ARCH or Salvation Army shelters which are connected to case-management services offered by area nonprofits
o For those experiencing homelessness less than a year, rapid rehousing is provided with a temporary housing subsidy
o For the chronically homeless – those with a disability who been living on the streets or in shelters for at least one year – permanent supportive housing is a national proven solution
· Community First Village is a 27- acre master planned community funded by private donations provides permanent supportive housing to 160 formerly chronically homeless individuals. Community First Village has its own micro-economy powered by residents who create art, service cars, cut hair and perform carpentry.
Who are the Homeless?
A study of five communities (Atlanta, Columbus, Dallas, San Francisco, Syracuse, and Pierce County Washington) by the Center for Social Innovation found significant racial disparities in rates of homelessness. Black residents accounted for nearly 65% of people experiencing homelessness in the five communities, even they accounted for 18% of the communities’ overall population. Nationwide black people account for 12% of the population, but 43% of the homeless population. The study also included an on-line survey of homeless service providers, which found that the service providers’ workforce is not represented of the community they serve. The major issue themes were: a lack of financial resources combined with fragile, impoverished social networks unable to provide support; high housing costs or dangerous or inhabitable housing forcing individuals into homelessness; criminal backgrounds making it difficult to find housing even with a voucher; mental health challenges; and family disintegration.
There are different types of homelessness. For example, there is temporary, episodic, and permanent homelessness. Temporary homelessness is exhibited through disasters (fire, floods, natural occurrences) or evictions. If an individual has a low income and are unable to afford rent in an ever-growing city, they may experience homelessness. Episodic homelessness is those who frequently go in and out of homelessness. These individuals frequently find themselves back on the streets. Eviction, mental illness, youth, and many others may experience this type of homelessness. Temporary homelessness can turn into episodic homelessness. Displacement is seen through the inability to hold a job, earn enough money to create a stable environment, and lack of assistance. Through many reasons and types of homelessness, there are individuals who experience it. Immigrants face an extreme amount of discrimination and persecution in their home nations and seek out the U.S. in hopes of fleeing those behaviors. Many times, when immigrants arrive in the U.S. they are continuously faced with discrimination and are forced into low skilled, low paying jobs. This creates a lack of stability or security in their new lives.
Displacement is experienced based on the fact that immigrants are living within a country that is not their home nation. Homeless immigration is a large example of displacement within the U.S. Currently in Los Angeles, it is estimated a large portion of the people experiencing homelessness are immigrants. Many immigrants experiencing homelessness are unwilling or unable to receive assistance due largely in part to fear stemming from the possibility of deportation. Displacement is then perpetuated due to the inability to find stable housing, income, or assistance. While the 2016 one-year estimates of sheltered homelessness found 12.8% were Latino and one-night estimates of sheltered and unsheltered homelessness found 22.1% of the overall homeless population to be Latino researchers speculate that such counts may be an underestimate. Recent immigrants may be more likely to double up or live in substandard housing, and undocumented people and families with members of “mixed-doc” status may avoid shelter and service out of fear.
The City of Austin based on previous audits of homelessness needs to focus on organizational change at the agency level. There is a sense given the public concerns aired in the social media that the City of Austin may have prematurely taken out of sequence the action steps to tackle the homelessness issue and not being ready to manage the potential impacts of changes to sit/lie ordinances. As the City Auditor noted in their audit reports that improvements should be the focus should be on coordinating homeless services; aligning resource allocations; and documenting outcomes. The necessary resources through the recent bond program, the Pay for Success Program, and others are not in place along with no policies in place to create significant increases in affordable housing. Moreover, the City has not put in place any substantial anti-displacement policies. Instead the Council decriminalized ordinances where are creating perceptions that the City is “inviting” more homeless and encouraging aggressive behaviors which has politicized the plight of the homeless.
From a policy perspective, the City needs to find solutions that are systemic, ambitious, and sustained. Such solutions require focused advocacy to shape political will and public support. They include strategies to:
· Implement an “anti-displacement” strategy that promotes the adopting “development with displacement” policies in order to manage neighborhood change. These affordable housing policies and strategies protect tenants and rental housing, stabilize and improve neighborhoods, promote community and resident ownership, leverage market activity, generate capital, expand affordable housing stock and preserve small businesses.
· implement Economic Opportunity that links residents to opportunities, create good jobs, improve transportation access, and build assets.
· Preserve and protect neighborhood assets, ensure equitable public investment, and expand equitable development opportunities.
· Implement health and place-based strategies to maximize health and healthcare investments in upstream factors that impact the determinants of equity and health.
Equitable Cities is a nonprofit firm focused on addressing the widening gap in income and equity that is undermining cities’ social fabric. Equitable Cities provides data, information, and advocacy to ensure that all city residents realize greater health, social stability, and a sustainable income. Equitable Cities will be providing deep dives into various city policies and strategies in the near future.
Homelessness needs to be addressed at a tactical and policy level. The City needs to consider homelessness in a much broader fashion with its relationship to displacement. There is the direct relationship between the reduced availability of low-cost housing and the increased number of homeless people. Job loss and economic difficulty is a high contributor to homelessness. With less low-income housing to go around, the relative price of the remaining units has risen dramatically and with it the percentage of people who must pay a disproportionate share of their income for housing costs. Overcrowded housing is directly related to the phenomenon of homelessness. The stresses produced by that arrangement, including tensions in relationships among the various people who are living together, often lead to displacement of individuals, families or both. These people may double up again, turn to the shelters, or find themselves on the streets. Broad-based economic trends have contributed to the growing numbers of homelessness. People in poverty has increased and the composition of poor people is changing with younger and individuals in female-headed families. The change in focus of the mental health system from inpatient to out-patient treatment has also impacted the problem. The shelter system was never intended to address either the large numbers of homeless people.