Austin will spend $65 million this year to reduce travel near future transit lines

Photo by Patricia Lim/KUT

Wednesday, February 2, 2022 by Nathan Bernier, KUT

The City of Austin is preparing to spend $65 million this year to prevent people who live near future transit lines from being evicted from their homes.

The largest transit expansion in Austin’s history is expected to increase demand for properties near frequent transit routes, which could worsen affordability issues in a city where home prices have risen . up 20% a year or more.

“We can make public transit investments in a different way that doesn’t have to negatively impact communities in as huge a way as we’ve seen historically,” said Nefertitti Jackmon, who was hired last year as the city’s first Community Displacement Prevention Officer. .

The $65 million will be split roughly evenly between three purposes: purchase property, develop property, and fund community-initiated projects.

The money comes from a $300 million anti-displacement fund approved by Austin voters in November 2020 as part of the $7.1 billion Connect Project expansion of public transport. Project Connect is funded by federal grants and a local tax increase of 8.75 cents per $100 of property value.

The transit expansion includes the addition of two light rail lines and four high-frequency MetroRapid bus lines. New routes, especially light rail, are expected to attract increased development clustered around stations.

The severity of gentrification and displacement around transit stops has been hotly debated among academic researchers, largely because the phenomenon is so difficult to measure.

But Austin’s long history of racial segregation and white-biased development – as described in a city report intended to inform how the $300 million anti-displacement fund is being spent — officials seek to at least avoid making life harder for historically black and Latino neighborhoods on the way to planned transit routes.

All anti-displacement money will be concentrated in areas less than a mile transit lines where the city believes people are at high risk of being evicted. The risk was calculated using University of Texas Researchcensus data and other statistics.

Of the $65 million that will be spent this year, $23 million is budgeted for land acquisition. The city plans to buy multi-family properties along Project Connect lines, but will also set aside $8 million for loans eligible non-profit organizations that may do their own affordable housing preservation and development.

Another $21 million will go to land use planning, including building and renovating affordable housing. The city says the money will allow private and nonprofit developers to access tax incentives and loans to increase the supply of lower-cost housing in areas within a mile of major thoroughfares. of public transport.

The city is committing $20 million of this year’s funds to community-initiated projects. From the spring, neighborhood groups will be able to apply for grants to develop their own programs aimed at preventing people from being forced out of their homes.

The remaining amount of approximately $1 million will be used for program administration.

“We sought to design a very different process centered around the most affected people (through the development of Project Connect),” Jackmon said. “Our city is booming right now, but why do we keep excluding such an important segment of our community? »

This story was produced as part of the austin monitorreporting partnership with KUT.

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