Gentrification and Affordability Shapes the District 1 and 3 Races

Never-ending Eastside stories

l-r: Natasha Harper-Madison, José Velásquez, Jose Noe Elias (Photos courtesy of the candidates' campaigns)

It's all about housing affordability for José Velásquez, and for most Eastside candidates in this year's City Council races. "Every single person running for Council right now is talking about affordability and that makes me so happy," Velásquez said. "I have just seen my community being decimated by gentrification. And I'm not knocking anybody that wants to live in East Austin, or in District 3, but we have to find a place where we can make it affordable."

Velásquez is the front-runner in the six-person D3 race, with the endorsement of the departing incumbent, Pio Renteria, and much of the Democratic Party establishment. He is the grand-nephew of the legendary Roy Velásquez of Roy's Taxi, an informal advisor to Lyndon Johnson, and his family has been part of the Eastside's political landscape for a century. "I did my first petition when I was 11 years old and I haven't stopped serving my community since," Velásquez said.

Jose Noe Elias immigrated to Austin from Mexico at the age of 8 and lived without documentation for 20 years, earning a master's degree in education. He's a teacher in Mon­topolis, one the city's most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, and wants to encourage community-centered public safety, equitable transportation, and more housing for working­-class families. "The question is, essentially, what kind of housing for whom," Elias said. "If there's [a proposal to build] a five-story complex but my families can't afford it then of course I would be opposed to that."

Daniela Silva is the daughter of a once-undocumented immigrant and also excelled in higher education. She volunteers with the Austin Justice Coalition, Community First! Village, and others, and supports environmental justice and equity-oriented transit development. Bertha Delgado had mounted a strong campaign that was knocked off course after the city rejected her ballot application due to a 15-year-old nonviolent felony conviction; instead, longtime Holly neighborhood activist Gavino Fernandez, who's run several times over the years and who's been allied with Delgado before, was a late filer on Monday. Yvonne Weldon and Esala Wueschner are also running in D3. Weldon wants to reduce wasteful spending and provide more funding for first responders; we were unable to learn much about Wueschner's priorities. District 3 includes Austin's oldest Latinx neighborhoods on both sides of the river, from I-35 at Seventh Street east to Montopolis and south to Ben White, then west of I-35 near St. Ed's.

Meanwhile, in District 1...

Melonie House-Dixon is another candidate with a deep connection to old Austin. As president of the MLK Neigh­bor­hood Associ­a­tion, she has fought gentrification but emphasizes that she embraces change. "Most of the development is going on in our area and we welcome development," she said. "We just want to have a voice about what goes up in our neighborhood."

Clinton Rarey, a former Army soldier who served in Afghanistan, is one of the few candidates who is not preoccupied with housing. (He disputes this, saying he is focused on reducing building and permitting fees rather than subsidized housing.) He's running to reduce the homeless population, hire more police officers, and lower property taxes. We were unable to learn much about Misael Ramos' campaign.

All three of these candidates are waging a very uphill battle to unseat incumbent Natasha Harper-Madison. For her, everything comes back to housing. "When you dig deeper you realize that all of the systemic issues, all of the manifestations of poverty, are directly connected to housing," she said. "Every single time, housing, housing, housing. And I don't separate housing from affordability and I don't separate affordability from mobility. Because they're all directly connected ... so you gotta tackle housing at the same time as affordability at the same time as mobility."

* Editor's note Friday 8-26 10:30 am: This story has been updated to correct that Daniela Silva’s mother is no longer undocumented. She has been an American citizen for more than a decade.

* Editor's note Friday, 9-2, 1:10 pm: This story has been updated to correct that Clinton Rarey was not an Army officer, but an enlisted soldier. Rarey also disputes this article's characterization of him as not preoccupied with housing: "I am very much focused on creating affordable housing.”

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Jose Noe Elias, Natasha Harper-Madison, Clinton Rarey, November 2022 Elections

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