Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Collateral Damage: Texas anti-diversity and Austin HOME laws both harm Blacks and Latinos by Alberta Phillips, Austin Free Press

Alberta Phillips, a member of the Austin Planning Commission, writes cogently on how politics often makes for strange bedfellows. Good ol' liberal Austin leaders are, in effect, converging with the anti-diversity agenda in the making of its Austin HOME law that serves the interests of gentrification and in so doing, harming Blacks and Latinos.

This is exactly what Black and Brown folks need to come together as collectively, we have more power, as well as because our communities are the very target of policy. We must also engage in continuous education and advocacy on the value and importance of a diverse Austin, considering that some Black and Brown leaders and organizations lent their support to this agenda.

-Angela Valenzuela


Collateral Damage: Texas anti-diversity and Austin HOME laws both harm Blacks and Latinos

by Alberta Phillips, Austin Free Press | June 18, 2024

Protesting the HOME zoning ordinance at Austin City Hall on May 14, 2024. Image credit: Iliana Medrano.

A former editor of the Austin American-Statesman years ago schooled me up on progressive versus conservative politics by drawing a line across a page. He then marked the center of the line, noting that everything left of that center was “progressive,” and everything right of center was “conservative.” As each side moved farther from the center toward the extreme ends of the line, he showed me something bizarre. The opposite points can bend so sharply that they intersect.

We’ve witnessed that phenomena in vaccine warfare as the far right and far left embrace conspiracy theories over science. We’ve also seen those interests merge in the movement to legalize marijuana. Now, conservatives in our State Capitol and progressives in our City Hall have implemented laws that many African Americans and Latinos say treat them as collateral damage. They have a point.

The Republican-dominated state government is implementing its 2023 anti-Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) law with the stated goal of neutralizing DEI’s preferential treatment of certain groups (read that as Blacks and Hispanics).  

That is twisted logic, given Texas’ history of discrimination and racial violence against African Americans and Latinos. UT-Austin crafted DEI programs to help reverse that damage and create a more welcoming environment on a campus that legally barred African Americans until 1950. DEI programs aim to promote academic excellence and success by providing Black, Hispanic and other students and faculty of color the social and scholarly infrastructure that were missing previously.

Instead, university and state leaders have been nailing the DEI coffin shut, laying off at least 60 UT-Austin employees and eliminating the Division of Campus and Community Engagement. It’s had a chilling effect on Black and Latino faculty and students, some of whom are headed for the exits. It’s hard to see how UT-Austin continues to recruit and retain top minority faculty and students in this climate. 

Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled Austin City Council passed a new land-use plan without ever studying its impact on the people most at-risk of being displaced. The Home Options for Mobility and Equity (HOME) ordinance permits housing to be built on smaller lots in single-family-zoned neighborhoods to generate more homes overall. But this market-based approach does not create the more affordable homes that are needed to address the displacement crisis facing Austin’s BIPOC communities. Given Austin’s racial and ethnic wealth gap, it’s not difficult to predict who HOME’s winners and losers will be.

During public hearings and in work sessions this spring, my colleagues and I on the city’s Planning Commission heard from dozens of potentially impacted Black and Latino teachers, homeowners, and renters. They told us that their students, families, and neighbors will be forced out of their neighborhoods and out of Austin by increased market pressures of HOME’s upzoning. The split screen at the city and state levels are similar: Members of the Planning Commission and City Council have been called racists, as have those implementing the state’s anti-DEI laws.

HOME establishes a so-called Equitable Transit-Oriented Development zone that governs landuse regulations for non-single-family zoned properties near Project Connect’s Phase 1 transit stations. If past transit-oriented developments are any indication, then Blacks and Latinos are in for a bumpy ride – out of town. 

A 2022 City of Austin report found that building transit-oriented development in historically Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) neighborhoods near the Plaza Saltillo and Martin Luther King transit stations resulted in “a significant increase in white, high-income populations and an active decrease in BIPOC presence over the last 10 years.” 

It goes on to say that most of the census tracts encompassed by those transit-oriented developments can be attributed to growth of the white population and “that demographic shift illustrates the displacement of BIPOC residents, an ultimate indicator of continued racial disparity.”

Given those facts and Austin’s history of using land-use policies to discriminate against Blacks and Latinos, it’s understandable that BIPOC communities feel threatened.

The irony of this moment recalls the lesson that then-American-Statesman Managing Editor David Lowery illustrated by drawing that line on the paper.

At City Hall and the Texas Legislature, each side has bent to the point where conservatives and progressives – acting in their own interests – have staked positions in which African Americans and Latinos are collateral damage. 

Editor’s Note:

This is part of an occasional series on the land-use revisions that the Austin City Council passed on May 16, 2024. Alberta Phillips is a board member of the Austin Free Press and its associate content editor. She is a member of the Austin Planning Commission and a former Austin American-Statesman columnist and editorial writer.

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