ATC’s fair housing work is based in a city that is no stranger to discrimination, inequality (both economic and racial) and systemic racism. As early as 1929, the City of Austin commissioned a comprehensive “Master Plan” by the firm Koch & Fowler, Consulting Engineers, which was explicitly racist in its vision and design. The plan proposed a policy solution to their so-named “race segregation problem” by establishing a “negro district” in east Austin replete, with all of the “facilities and conveniences” necessary to “draw the negro to this area.” Today, such a plan should shock the conscience of any rational citizen but, in the context of the times, Austin was like many other American cities in the new century seeking to institutionalize racist policies for the benefit of a white majority.
No doubt we’ve made much progress, but we must also acknowledge that yesterday’s “race segregation problem” has been supplanted by pervasive economic segregation. A 2015 study produced by Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute concluded, in part, that Austin was among the “most segregated large metros” in the nation. Of course, economic segregation has significant implications, especially for working minorities. Even the casual observer would acknowledge that Austin is in the throes of profound economic and demographic shifts.
With such explosive population growth, new challenges -- and echoes of old ones -- emerge. Left unchecked, the influx of residents from other states is mightily contributing to already existing enclaves of concentrated wealth in Austin neighborhoods. These pockets of affluence accelerate land values, which, in turn, accelerate land development, finally bringing too heavy a burden to bear upon the working class populations of Austin. We commonly refer to the broader problem as “gentrification” but it’s critical that we also understand the collateral consequences of this phenomenon. Among these consequences are persistent housing discrimination, rising housing inequality, degrading conditions within aging properties, and a shortage of truly accessible housing, among others.