FactCHECK

RECEIVED Mon., Jan. 18, 2016

Dear Editor,
    As a fair housing advocate, I've been very pleased with CM Greg Casar's work to protect low-income Austin residents. That's why I was very surprised when "Public Notice: Tracking the Major Arcana" [News, Jan. 15] claimed Casar was "the council's most hawkish pro-gentrification vote on land-use issues." That statement flies in the face of reality.
    On the contrary, in a short time, Casar has done more to combat gentrification and support low-income residents than virtually any of his predecessors on Council. His accomplishment in the last year have included:
    1) Passing a resolution to prioritize desegregation in the city's new land use code, CodeNEXT;
    2) Helping to creating long-overdue homestead preservation districts in high-needs neighborhoods;
    3) Protecting residents in at least two mobile home parks against displacement;
    4) Increasing opportunities for ADUs to increase affordable housing in high-opportunity areas of the city; and
    5) Securing funding to help tenants protect their right to quality living conditions.
    The article was short and did not explain the basis for the author's statement about Casar, but I cannot imagine what facts could justify accusing him of supporting gentrification. I suspect the author may owe Casar an apology, and I am certain the Chronicle needs to recheck its facts.
Brian McGiverin
   [Nick Barbaro responds: You’re right, sorry, I didn’t really connect the dots very well in the brief space last week; let me try again: Indeed, CM Casar has been excellent on the sorts of issues you cite, and it's clear where his heart is. That's what makes it painfully ironic that, when it comes to broader land-use issues that are the real drivers of gentrification, he has bought into the real estate community’s mantra of “density at all costs,” and supported virtually every initiative in that direction. In fact, as has been proven time and again, deregulated density drives up land costs dramatically, and forces low- to middle-income residents – homeowners but especially renters – out of their traditional neighborhoods. When a small house gets torn down to build a “stealth dorm,” or a small apartment complex gets torn down to build luxury condos, that’s great for density (and great for investors, builders, and especially real estate agents, who make money with every flip) but it’s the very definition of gentrification. The winners are tech boomers moving to town with good jobs, and outside investors looking for second homes or investment gains; the losers are long-term residents, whose costs have skyrocketed. Renters are simply priced out of town; homeowners at least see a paper gain in their property value, but the only way to realize it is to cash out and move to Pflugerville – or beyond. Unfortunately, CM Casar has thrown himself wholeheartedly into this effort. (The inclusion of ADUs on your list illustrates a case in point. I love ADUs, and largely support the recent regulation changes, but the city's own study of the issue – presented to the Planning Commission April 28, 2015 – couldn't be clearer: Given the costs, and the effects on property values, these will produce zero affordable housing, and raise central city property values.) It didn’t help that Casar's first real experience in Austin politics involved getting demagogued by the neighborhood movement’s most lunatic fringe, but he’s now chair of Council’s Planning and Neighborhoods Committee, so he needs to pick up the pace of his learning curve.]
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