Design, Technology, and Innovation Projects
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The Project

Bringing the tools of data science, service design, content strategy, and community organizing, the Austin i-team will partner with the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department to begin focusing on services designed to stabilize residents in housing. Building off of over a year’s worth of work to alleviate homelessness in Austin, the Austin i-team will continue to focus on issues of service delivery to help Austin’s most vulnerable residents not only survive, but thrive.

Goals for the i-teams’ work over the course of 2019 include:

  • Quick action that enables neighbors–both homeowners and renters–to stay in their neighborhood with agency and control over the fate of their community;
  • Lessons learned address Council requests, city strategic outcomes, and inform how the Department of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development deploys its anti-displacement strategy in all neighborhoods also facing displacement pressure;
  • Establishing anti-displacement metrics with actionable targets ensures accountability for progress, which, combined with community participation in the project, increases trust and connection between residents and the city;
  • Improve accessibility to resources that will improve quality of life for current and future community members.

The i-team’s process of discovery and prototyping will help us build evidence for how different anti-displacement strategies will perform to stabilize residents at risk of displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods. Our work will be informed by the lived experience to learn how we might effectively facilitate and connect:

  • People of color to easily- accessible database of affordable units
  • Households in need to opportunities to reduce utility costs
  • Seniors in need to service providers that address displacement
  • Eligible homeowners with property tax exemptions
  • Tenants facing displacement with assistance programs
  • The iTeam could employ other potential actions based on the needs of the neighborhood

Gentrification and displacement

Austin, Texas frequently appears at the top of many top 10 lists. The metropolitan area is one of the fastest growing in the country, with a high economic growth and low unemployment rates that encourages an estimated 105 people to move here per day.

As economic prosperity and Austin’s frequent listing as one of the best places to live make it an increasingly attractive community, population increases have resulted in rising property values. However, not all share in Austin’s prosperity. This dynamic has resulted in gentrification, the process by which higher income households displace low income residents of a neighborhood, changing the essential character of that neighborhood. According to a study by the University of Toronto, Austin ranks first amongst cities of 1 million residents or more in being the most economically segregated.

A recent research study by the University of Texas at Austin identified that out of 200 neighborhoods, 16 are “actively gentrifying,” and 23 more that are at risk of gentrification. The UT study identified that most vulnerable residents in those neighborhoods (those who have low-income, are people of color, have not achieved a bachelor’s degree are higher, are families with children in poverty, and whose housing status are renters) are most likely to experience displacement.

In his 2018 State of the City Address, Mayor Adler said “We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past any more than we can afford the cost that the status quo is imposing on our community. Our job is to prevent an unacceptable future. After years of unimplemented ideas, we need to do something to address displacement.”

By “the mistakes of the past,” the Mayor was referring to Austin’s legacy of institutionalized racism that have created systemic inequities. These include:

  1. During the 1870’s–1920’s original Black “Freedman” towns and Hispanic/Latino populations were forced to move into settlements outside of what was then the city of Austin into communities such as Clarksville, St. John’s, and Montopolis - neighborhoods currently facing gentrification pressure.
  2. The City’s 1928 Master Plan created a “Negro District” on the East side of Austin. Those historic neighborhoods are currently facing extreme gentrification pressure, or are in late stages of gentrification.
  3. From 1910 through the 1920s Blacks lived throughout the center of Austin with concentration along the eastern side of downtown, while “Mexican American” households were concentrated in a neighborhood in the southwest of downtown. These neighborhoods are currently experiencing, or are at risk of experiencing, gentrification pressure.
  4. The Industrial Development Plan of 1957 zoned all property in East Austin “industrial,” including single family residential uses. Polluting industries were allowed to remain, and residents were not allowed to get bank loans for home repair, so-called “red-lining,” which laid the groundwork for gentrification. East Austin faces gentrification pressure.
  5. Urban Renewal programs of the 1960s-1970s became known as Urban Removal, displaced people of color from large areas, and turned formerly residential land into parks and schools without providing adequate opportunities for displaced households to return.
  6. Since the 1990s, zoning changes in East Austin have accelerated gentrification, without efforts to mitigate displacement.

As a result of collaborative efforts between Mayor, Council, City Management and staff, the recently adopted City of Austin Strategic Direction 2023 identifies a strategy of “Develop and act upon recommendations to reduce the number of households and businesses displaced from Austin due to unaffordability.” In 2018, Austinites voted to approve a $250 million affordable housing bond, and a resident Task Force on Anti-Displacement issues recommendations to provide a right to remain and a right to return for Austin residents.

Definition and Measurment

However, the city has yet to identify a methodology to measure progress against its anti-displacement strategy. The Austin i-team is supporting this methodology development over the course of the year. The University of Texas at Austin’s report on gentrification and displacement, UpRooted, defines direct displacement as when:

  1. residents can no longer afford to remain in their homes due to rising housing bills (rents or property taxes), or
  2. residents are forced out due to causes such as eminent domain, lease non-renewals, and evictions to make way for new development, or physical conditions that render their homes uninhabitable. The report also classifies different stages of gentrification.

These definitions, along with the over 300 recommendations on this topic provided to the City provide Austin’s i-team with a place to begin. Framing the problem of displacement looks roughly like the following:

Displacement Problem framing

iTeam Grant Requirements

The purpose of the grant is to add an innovation capacity to a city. Grant funds may only be used for salaries and benefits, and for expenses related to the iTeam’s work. Teams are expected to go through a rigorous process of framing problems before engaging in solutioning or connecting to ideas.

iTeam Grant Requirements Timeline

Deliverables

Expected deliverables include: