Mayor Adler proposing task force on displacement and gentrification

Over the weekend Austin Mayor Steve Adler posted an idea for a "Displacement Task Force" on the Council Message Board.  He says Council Members Pio Renteria and Delia Garza are already on board.

Adler's Communications Director Jason Stanford says displacement is a term that encompasses more than just gentrification -- for example homeowners getting pushed out of an area because wages aren't keeping up with housing prices.

Stanford says right now the city doesn't have a comprehensive plan on how to deal with the issue.

"Everything we do we say 'Okay we need to deal with gentrification in zoning, we need to deal with gentrification and affordable housing in this new project' but there's no citywide strategy on all the tools we're going to use and all of the things we're going to do.  It's time we get a plan," Stanford said.

That's where the task force comes in.

"That's a nice bureaucratic response to what their intention and attempts are.  Being an Austin native, 62 years...for many of us, it's another one," said Gavino Fernandez with the Austin chapter of LULAC.

Fernandez says he too feels the pressure of getting priced out of the home he's called his own for decades. "We try to educate in not selling the land.  Because they've never had $300,000 and it's very tempting not to sell," Fernandez said. 

Part of the criticism from the community about the Mayor's task force idea is the very mention of yet another task force. "Unless we really invest monies into these properties and to these businesses, it's not going to go anywhere.  It's just going to be another task force," Fernandez said.

Stanford says Austinites like to be a part of the conversation. "That's why these task forces are so important because if we just said 'hey we've got a plan, surprise!'  I think that would go badly in Austin," Stanford said.

As for the rising property taxes...

"3 quarters of the increase in your property taxes have nothing to do with this city, it's all due to school finance being busted and the legislature needs to deal with that," Stanford said.

Last year Council expanded the Homestead Exemption.  But there wasn't enough support for it this year because Stanford says cuts would have to be made elsewhere. 

"Next year the delta opens up and there's going to be a lot of room to increase the Homestead Exemption while still meeting our obligations," Stanford said.
We asked Fernandez if he considers himself "skeptical yet hopeful" about the task force.  He said "skeptical," yes, but "hopeful" is a stretch.  He wants homeowners in East Austin to be a part of the economic growth in the area, not forced out by it.

"Make $100 million available in loans to this community, to these individuals that own land and doesn't belong to the bank, it's clear title," Fernandez said.

Fernandez says he probably wouldn't join the task force if asked but he would support someone else who has been affected by displacement or gentrification to be on the task force.
Both Stanford and the Mayor say that is the goal, putting people in the group who have been through it.
The Mayor is hoping to get the task force approved when council comes back from break in August.