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Gentrification Taking Its Toll on Historically Black Neighborhoods and Communities

AUSTIN- In his open address to the world, Austin Mayor Steve Adler describes his city as a place where all are welcome and open to opportunities for success and prosperity.

“We value diversity, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, our natural environment, and a laid back attitude.  In Austin, everyone is good enough and no one is too good,” according to Mayor Adler’s statement on the city’s website. ” It is my goal to move our city forward in a way that is inclusive, innovative and intentionally improvisational.  Social innovation, social entrepreneurship, equity and access are becoming an ever greater part of our lives as we seek to manage the incredible growth that follows from being such a wonderful place to live.”

However, when it comes to African-Americans and predominantly Black neighborhoods and communities in Austin, they can best be described as “the lands that time forgot”.

Unemployment, blight are forcing Blacks out and now the latest challenge Black communities are fighting is gentrification.

A new study in January revealed that one of the that Austin is one of the “fastest-gentrifying” cities in the nation – many of which are formerly Black neighborhoods.

Visible Community Concerns

The city was ranked number 10 in the country as it continues to see the dwindling of neighborhoods that once were predominantly Black communities.

“The population of American’s of African descent in Austin is dwindling and are highly susceptible to the inequities which the City of Austin set in motion with the 1928 masterplan,” said District 1 Councilwoman Ora Houston. “There is a large disparity in the services and amenities readily available for our diminishing population. We must endure serious quality of life issues that have not been addressed.”

 Council Member Houston has a vested interest in the future of her community since she has lived in east Austin for most of her life. Houston lives in the home her parents built in 1954 on East 22nd.

She attended Blackshear Elementary School, Kealing Jr. High School, the ‘old’ L.C. Anderson High School, and received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and sociology from Huston-Tillotson University—all in Austin’s newly-defined District 1.

She supports equality, economic development, employment and education and is concerned about the future of her beloved area.

Conducted by Realtor.com, the analysis examined home price data and census information to determine the cities experiencing rapid gentrification—which is loosely defined as the phenomenon of people wealthier (some would also include “whiter”) than its traditional residents moving into a neighborhood, thereby increasing the property values and cost of living in the area and eventually pricing out less-wealthy residents.

HISTORY

The part of town east of IH-35 was officially designated as an area for African-American and Latino residents in the segregated 1920s. Both groups created vital, though largely separate, communities that thrived for decades.

As in many cities, desegregation didn’t mean the then unofficial “nonwhite” parts of town got equal services or economic stimulus, of course. That, combined with the fact that new generations who could afford it often moved to the suburbs, left some parts of East Austin a shell of what they once were.

According to Realtor, the wave of development that swept through Austin in the early 2000s eventually led to people from “outside the community” following cheap rents and sale prices across the freeway from downtown. They were inevitably followed by new development itself, and, in classic fashion, prices and other changes displaced and alienated the traditional residents while “rebuilding a fancier, more congested version of itself.”

According to Austin Columnist Tsoke Adjavon, gentrification has been the primary cause that many African-Americans moved away from East Austin into areas like Pflugerville and Round Rock.

Residents are most concerned about the preservation of art, music and culture interests as well as the kind of economic opportunities and development that would help encourage Blacks to stay and be a catalyst to job creation and more youth opportunities.

Adjavon noted the flight of Blacks left a void in East and Northeast Austin that is quickly being replaced by Whites. For example the demographic changes have been drastic with East Austin seeing a drop from 15-percent African-American population to a measly 9-percent since 1990. The changes have also affected business climate, arts and culture and employment opportunities.

According to CurbedAustin, it should come as no surprise that the study focuses on the rapid transition and displacement that has happened in East Austin over the past few years; the analysis sets the tipping point at the year 2000.

One visible concerned that caused great community stir was the decision by a business to erase Black history from the side of an East Austin business. The mural depicted the Black artists of Texas.

These and other concerns were brought to the table and with a great deal of talk and few promises coming from a recent gathering of community leaders and city officials addressing the plight of Black Austin and the future of Northeast Austin.

Attending the important meeting to hear concerns of residents were Mayor Adler, Councilwoman Houston, Jeff Travillion of the Travis County Commissioner Court and Travis County Precinct Chair members.

“When I decided to run for the City Council, one reason was to attempt to change the system,” Houston said. “While, I know there is much work left for me to do, I feel that I have spotlighted the very real issues that have been swept under the rug or simply ignored.”

Community leaders want to see more action than empty words and head nodding from the mayor and city and county leaders.

“I hope that we can begin to acknowledge the inequities, implement real plans to address the issues, and preserve and honor the cultural diversity that is left in Austin,” Houston said.

They vow to continue to press forward to preserve Black history and heritage in the area of the city, but want the kind of changes that will save “Black Austin” from perishing into the annals of history.

 

 

*City of Austin, Curbed Austin and Columnist Tsoke Adjavon contributed to this story.

By: Darwin Campbell

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