The People’s Plan to Curb Displacement

"This is coming from the Eastside, not coming from above, but below"

Fred McGhee
Fred McGhee (Photo by John Anderson)

It was nearing 11:30pm on Tuesday when the Zoning & Platting Commission finally turned attention from individual zoning cases to the night's scheduled briefing on The People's Plan. Drs. Jane Rivera and Fred McGhee, two of the three authors (Susana Almanza is the third), presented their 16-page resolution addressing gentrification and displacement in hopes of gaining the land use commission's support. The plan asks city officials to immediately implement six strategies to thwart displacement and work toward restorative justice. They are:

1) start a Low Income Housing Trust Fund and appropriations (modeled on Denver's plan);

2) identify at least four city-owned properties to be used for low-income housing;

3) expand use of Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts and Historic Districts to preserve Austin's historically black and brown neighborhoods;

4) establish interim development regulations in areas with inadequate drainage;

5) implement an environmental quality review program;

6) adopt Right to Stay and Right to Return programs in East Austin (modeled off Port­land's Right to Return), which would allow families who were priced out of these neighborhoods to return to the Eastside.

Though they stressed that their proposals are specifically not tied to CodeNEXT, McGhee and Rivera said the city could take a huge step toward fighting displacement if the requests were implemented in addition to the new code. But both authors see their plan as a request for immediate action (i.e., the opposite of CodeNEXT). "The time for talk is over," said McGhee. "We don't need any more studies. What we require is action. People are being displaced from their homes as we speak."

Commissioner Betsy Greenberg questioned whether Portland's Right to Return was "actually effective or just a feel-good" ordinance, while wondering if zoning laws could be more effective. McGhee agreed that Portland's program remains a work-in-progress and that both the program and zoning restrictions should be applied. "But it's not about the numbers," he said. "Even if one family was served, it would be the right policy." Concluding the presentation, seven of the eight commissioners present voted to support the People's Plan in principle. (Commissioner Bruce Evans abstained, citing an unfamiliarity with the resolution.)

ZAP Vice Chair Jim Duncan, who led the night's meeting in Jolene Kiolbassa's absence, hailed Rivera and McGhee as "community treasures," before turning the commission's attention back to CodeNEXT, and the scheduling of public hearings. After a 40-minute go-round, ZAP voted 6-1 (one commissioner had left by then) to adopt the two dates put forth last week by the Planning Commission. As of now, there will be a full-day public hearing held on Sat., April 28, followed by an evening hearing on Tue., May 1.

Yet the biggest surprise of the night came from CodeNEXT staffer Jerry Rusthoven, who told commissioners he predicts Council will want to vote on first reading in June. This is the first time since draft three's November delay that a staff member has ventured a guess as to when CodeNEXT will head to Council for adoption. Despite Commissioner David King's attempt to learn more about how June had been decided, Rusthoven conceded only that it's a "presumption I'm making." However, even if Council does receive CodeNEXT before their July break, it remains unlikely that their final vote will come anytime before August.

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Fred McGhee, Jane Rivera, Susana Almanza, CodeNEXT

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