Austin’s Economic Divide – Is There Hope On The Horizon?

By Bill Oakey – May 9, 2016

The unfortunate dilemma of income inequality is alive and well in Austin. But Austin American-Statesman business writer, Dan Zehr, recently highlighted a new report that shows one positive change. From 2007 to 2012, there was a drop in the concentration of affluent families in affluent neighborhoods. The bad news is that Austin and some other Texas cities remain among the most economically segregated in the United States. Worst of all, the segregation of the lowest income families in Austin increased during the five years cited in the report. You can read the entire report from Stanford and Cornell University here.

City Officials Have Gotten the Message, And Help May Be On the Way

One of the things I learned over the past few years is that “Affordable Housing” (capitalized) means something different in official parlance from “affordable housing.” The capitalized term refers to subsidized housing for low-income households. The HousingWorks organization, under the direction of Mandy De Mayo, is a strong community leader in that area. Here in Austin, we face an affordability crisis across several income strata. The hopeful news on the horizon comes from the City Council and the City’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Dept. (NHCD).

Last month on April 7th, the City Council passed Resolution # 20160407-024, which addresses gentrification and the economic divide. This resolution calls for NHCD to develop a set of options for permanent affordable housing. Preliminary findings are due to be presented to the City Council by June 14th, with a final report to be presented by August 2nd.

On Tuesday of this week, I participated in a stakeholders meeting with NHCD to discuss both types of affordable housing options – publicly and privately funded. This was a very interesting and productive gathering. Kudos to Erica Leak, NHCD Housing Policy and Planning Manager, who hosted and led the stakeholder discussion. Those in attendance included community members from financial, real estate, community housing and various other related backgrounds. We divided into groups to try to come to consensus on recommendations for affordable housing options. Some of the options discussed came from the Homeowner Retention Initiative, proposed on this blog.

There are some high mountains to climb in order to make significant progress in the housing side of Austin’s affordability quagmire. Here’s hoping that the City Council and City Staff will go big with innovative strategies that break new ground. Austin should lead, not follow, in the quest to build bridges across the economic divide.

And Now for the Music – Affordability Songs and Tales From the Economic Divide

  1. Blue Water Line – The Brothers Four, 1961
  2. Somebody Bought My Old Hometown – Bobby Bare, 1967, from the album, “A Bird Named Yesterday”
  3. In the Middle of the House – Rusty Draper, 1956
  4. A Dollar Down – TheĀ Limeliters, 1961
  5. Busted – Ray Charles, 1963
  6. Poor Boy – Elvis Presley, 1956
  7. Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1956
  8. The Money Tree – Patience & Prudence, 1957
  9. Saginaw, Michigan – Lefty Frizzell, 1963
  10. Down In the Boondocks – Billy Joe Royal, 1965
  11. One Piece At a Time – Johnny Cash, 1976
  12. Patches – Dickey Lee, 1962
  13. Rag Doll – The Four Seasons, 1964
  14. Poor Side of Town – Johnny Rivers, 1966
  15. Above and Beyond – Rodney Crowell, 1989, first recorded by Buck Owens, 1960
  16. Ruby Ann – Marty Robbins, 1962 (Rare stereo version)
  17. Little Boxes – Pete Seeger, 1964
  18. You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly – Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, 1978
  19. (We’re Not) The Jet Set – George Jones & Tammy Wynette, 1974
  20. Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles, 1964
  21. Uptown Girl – Billy Joel, 1983
  22. Dawn (Go Away) – The Four Seasons, 1964
  23. Crystal Chandeliers – Charley Pride, 1972
  24. King of the Road – Roger Miller, 1965
  25. Queen of the House – Jody Miller, 1965, totally hilarious “answer song,” country Grammy Award winner, #12 national pop hit
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