Ambiguous Oracle: Company’s New Austin Campus Displaces Longtime Residents

Legal group calls Oracle plan "a slap in the face" to low-income renters

Oracle buildings in homebase, Redwood City, California.
Oracle buildings in homebase, Redwood City, California. (Source: Wikipedia)

On Dec. 22, software megafirm Oracle announced a major expansion plan for Austin.

In its press announcement (released jointly with Gov. Greg Abbott and Mayor Steve Adler), the company said it would be constructing a “next-generation technology campus” in Austin, and would purchase housing to be available for employees “nearby.” The company described the Austin project as “driven by growth in Oracle’s cloud sales organization, Oracle Direct,” and that it would expand its Austin staff (currently about 1,100 people) by more than 50%. The company is based in Redwood City, California, and has more than 130,000 employees worldwide.

But attorneys representing former tenants of the apartment complexes emptied and cleared to accommodate the Oracle campus described the new project, and the city’s welcome, as “a slap in the face” to the mostly low-income former residents.

Oracle has three local facilities, all in Northwest Austin, and in 2013 received $1 million in state and local (Williamson County) incentives to expand its operations. The new, 500,000 square-foot facility is planned for construction on a 27-acre site just south of South Lakeshore Boulevard and north of Elmont Drive – until recently the site of the now demolished Lakeview Apartments. Oracle is also acquiring the nearby Azul Lakeshore luxury apartments, a 295-unit complex expected to become home to many Oracle employees. The company said it would be relocating some employees from other locations, but expects to be recruiting young tech graduates and professionals for its expansion. Scott Armour, senior vice president of Oracle Direct, said, “Our state-of-the-art campus will be designed to inspire, support and attract top talent – with a special focus on the needs of millennials.”

Gov. Abbott and Mayor Adler welcomed the company’s announcement. “Thanks to our skilled workforce, combined with our low-tax and low-regulation environment,” Abbott said, “one of the largest tech companies in the world has chosen to expand in Austin.” The mayor said, “What Oracle is doing in Austin reinforces what I’m talking about when I say that great cities do big things, especially in the technology sector. With this significant investment, Oracle demonstrates that it believes in Austin and its future, and it’s serious about creating fantastic job opportunities in our community. I look forward to working with major employers like Oracle to tackle our biggest challenges, including mobility and affordability.”

Affordability was also on the minds of the former residents of Lakeview Apartments – roughly 200 families with moderate incomes – some of whom are reportedly still awaiting the return of their security deposits and any help from the city in finding comparable housing within city limits. The southeast neighborhoods around South Lakeshore Blvd., Riverside Drive, and Pleasant Valley had provided some of the most affordable rental housing in Austin, but the older stock of apartment complexes is steadily being replaced by high-end and mixed-use developments unaffordable for the original tenants.

The nonprofit legal services firm, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, is representing former residents of the Lakeview Apartments in their dispute with Cypress Real Estate Advisors, which sold the property to Oracle. In a statement released by Stephanie Trinh, TRLA called Oracle’s plans “a slap in the face to the residents who once resided there.”

“Oracle, the City of Austin, and the developers may be pleased with this move,” continued TRLA, “but it is emblematic of the largest problem affecting this city, and each has done what it can to ignore the residents who once resided there.”

According to TRLA, Cypress effectively drove the former residents out of Lakeview in September, stopping repairs and ending leases with threats or early terminations, while refusing to answer questions and denying tenants any relocation assistance. As TRLA sees the situation, “Oracle, the world’s second largest software company, will now benefit from Cypress Real Estate Advisor’s wrongdoings, as the city welcomes Oracle with open arms. What was affordable housing in a low-income neighborhood is now office space for one of the wealthiest companies in the world.” While not directly blaming Oracle for the actions of Cypress, TRLA suggested the company help its clients find “decent, affordable places to live.” The TRLA release concludes, “The Lakeview families shouldn’t be treated like pawns in this developer’s game.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Oracle, affordable housing, Lakeview Apartments, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid

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