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Face of East Austin, Texas Changing Because of Gentrification

by Michael Allen

 

Gentrification is defined as the buying of cheap properties, raising the property value and forcing poorer residents out because of higher taxes.


 

S.O.S. (Save Our Streets)


The most beautiful parts of Texas are arguably the towns and cities of the Hill Country.


In towns like Lakeway, Texas (an Austin, Texas suburb), residents can take in breathtaking views of limestone hills or hit the water of Lake Travis on their boats or jet skis.


The only problem with suburbs like Lakeway, Texas is that it is a nice sized distance from downtown Austin, Texas and many companies like IMB Computers and the blossoming film and television industry.


The one way for affluent Austinites to solve that problem is to force older, poor and darker people out of the affordable areas of East Austin.


Build mansions next to modest homes and force older and poorer residents who would not sell to developers to lose their property if they cannot afford the higher taxes.


“I thought gentrification was supposed to be a good thing, that it was supposed to make the neighborhood nicer, and improve things for us, but it’s not been that,” said Bettye Washington, an 80 year resident of East Austin. “It’s pushed so many of us out.”


Washington, 80, has received numerous letters and phone calls telling her to get out of her East Austin neighborhood.


One letter read, “move out, move on,” she said.


While so many of her neighbors have moved, Washington continues to fight to stay in her home of over 40 years; a shotgun home built in the 1970s.


Washington said, “Every time they buy one of my neighbor’s houses, they put up one of those mansions and the taxes go up. It’s been a rugged ride, but I’m still going. I’m in overtime, but I’ll outride them yet.”


To combat the displacement of longtime residents adversely affected by gentrification, Kathie Tovo, representative and pro tem of the Austin City Council has come up with the “right to return” ordinance.


The goal of the “right to return” ordinance is to prioritize access to affordable housing for people who have longstanding ties to their East Austin neighborhood and other parts of the city affected by gentrification.


Tovo said, “We are losing these longtime residents. We have to use everything in our tool box to help them.”


Details of how the “right to return” ordinance will work are still unclear and many critics are not confident that the ordinance will work.


Furthermore, the ordinance has to be in compliance with the Fair Housing Act.


The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination when renting, obtaining financing or buying a home based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability or the presence of children/familial status.


The Act deals with landlord and seller discrimination, making it unlawful not to rent or sell to a person based on race, gender, religion, etc.


Gentrification does not just displace poor, minority residents but it also dilutes the voting power of minorities.


With fewer predominantly minority communities, fewer minority politicians have a chance at holding political office.


Austin, a city that stereotypically votes liberal and Democrat, may see a reverse in the politics of the society if more conservative suburban residents move into the city limits.


Even though former residents of a community have to move and find new homes, that does not mean that they will settle in predominantly minority communities.


If a few move here and a few move there, those few new residents of a new community do not possess enough power to change the politics of their new communities.


As a result, urban areas have begun to swing Republican when they were once solidly Democratic.


Additionally, as Blacks are forced to move to the suburbs because they can longer afford the city, their relocation is still not enough to turn Republican suburbs into Democratic suburbs.


While the Black vote might get diluted, the Latino vote should wield more influence.


Brookings Institute scholar and author Will Frey said, “With the new Black flight to the suburbs following decades of White flight, Hispanics will have an even bigger role to play in big city politics and even in the suburbs. In Chicago for example whose politics were for decades dictated by different Black and White ethnic constituencies, Hispanics are playing a much greater role.”

 

Furthermore, larger business chains and franchises have replaced small mom and pop stores and businesses making it harder for small businesses to survive.


With the influx of major franchises and the removal of minorities, many businesses have struggled to remain profitable since the demographics surrounding the businesses have changed drastically.


Austin is not the only major city experiencing gentrification.


Other cities experiencing gentrification include Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Seattle, Wash., Denver, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, Baltimore, Md. and Boston to name a few.


“Clearly, the Black presence, which has been the mainstay of many large city populations, is diminishing,” Fey added.


Despite the fact that gentrification has already led to the displacement of many poor African-Americans, residents of East Austin have begun to fight back.


Some people have even bought land in East Austin to make sure affordable housing continues to develop in the area.


For many East Austin residents, gentrification is extremely hurtful because East Austin has always been home to a large number of African-Americans because of Jim Crow laws.


Because of segregation, much of Austin’s African-American history revolves around East Austin from schools to churches, and now maintaining that history has become more difficult.


East Austin was once known as the Negro District, established through Jim Crow laws in 1928.


Austin, Texas is the only fast-growing United States city to see a decrease in its African-American population from 2000-2010.


While residents have long vowed to keep Austin weird, East Austin residents vow to keep their neighborhoods true to its history no matter what it takes.


And the capital city of Texas is just a microcosm of what is taking place around many predominantly Black neighborhoods across America as they fight to maintain their history and soul.


Residents once desired to live in suburbs like Lakeway, Texas with its scenic beauty, limestone hills and lakes, and many avoided the inner city.

 

Now, one demographics’ desire to transform the inner cities of America is displacing those that called it home for decades.


This article was published on Friday 04 May, 2018.
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