The Austin Chronicle

Gentrified? Displaced? Call a Task Force.

The mayor pitches an effort to solve "displacement" after Council's summer break

By Michael King, July 14, 2017, News

In a sort of farewell July 8 message to his dispersing City Council colleagues – some on literal vacations, all on Council's annual informal summer break – Mayor Steve Adler posted a request to Council's online message board, reiterated in a Monday press release. In his statement, the mayor proposes a task force on residential "displacement," requesting August support from Council, and suggesting the proposal is already endorsed by Council Members Delia Garza and Pio Renteria.

As Adler describes it, the proposed task force, working over the next six months, would propose to staff and Council "anti-displacement policies, strategies, and tools." Although he never precisely defines the term, it appears to describe city residents effectively forced to move from their current homes by various factors, including: "supply of housing, housing losses due to demolition, upgrade and condominium conversion, speculative sale, abandonment, increased home prices, rents and taxes," or other reasons to be determined by task force research. Should Council approve, he writes, "The resolution could be adopted in August and could authorize the creation of a 15-member task force, 11 members appointed by the City Council with additional appointments made to ensure diversity and expertise."

The mayor's posting cites other city efforts variously addressing the issue – the Strategic Housing Blue­print, CodeNEXT, Spirit of East Austin Initiative, the Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities, etc. – but argues that what is needed is "a comprehensive, cross-discipline, cross-department analytical framework to focus on displacement." His proposal contemplates a six-month task force and staff project to "gather information, understand contributing factors, set metrics and goals, and raise responses."

Presumably, the mayor needs only one more co-sponsor for a resolution to reach an August Council agenda, and while there may be questions about effectiveness, the proposal is unlikely to evoke much opposition on the dais. The statement doesn't say so, but since World War II, the phrase "displaced person" has been a polite or bureaucratic term for "refugee." Considering the recent U.S. and international record on accommodating refugees, we can only hope the city's effort will promise more success.

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