Moi Racist?

Probably. A bit. I am human. But not in this case. I read a couple local real-estate blogs. I find it fascinating to read the statistics and to watch how Austin is changing. The blog post in question was about a Statesman article that talked about what a great deal East Austin was for investors. The owner of the blog commented that they still weren’t interested in investing in East Austin as there were still a lot of problems in the area. This got into a discussion of what the problems were, comparing and contrasting with the gentrification of South Congress, etc. My comment on this conundrum was:

South Congress the street was bad in the nineties (although not horrible, watch “Last Days of the San Jose” to get a feel for the problems). You’d drive down it and point and stare at the prostitutes, but it was also a street you still drove down, so obviously it wasn’t that bad. I’d say you can point at the closing of the porn theater as probably the turning point for the street. You could actually watch as the prostitutes and drug dealers moved further south. I’m not sure other neighborhoods can be fixed that easily.

The neighborhoods around there were still pretty nice. Travis Heights has obviously always been a fantastic neighborhood. Esther’s Follies’ running gag is that South Austin is known for cars on the lawn, junk sculpture, and garage sales. Which pretty much described the other neighborhoods. Junky, but not dangerous.

East Austin you’re dealing with some entrenched problems. The first Austin city plan in 1928 *encouraged* blacks to move into East Austin (or give up all municipal services). They were pushed out of some of the nicer areas like Clarkesville and Wheatsville. The I-35 divide is entrenched. The black community is built up around it being “their place” and that crosses economic barriers. Much of the local political structures are built around those ideas as well. And it helps to realize this when trying to understand local politics. Austin had mandatory busing into the late eighties I believe and thanks to transfers has fairly starkly segregated schools.

Which is not to say I don’t think it will gentrify. I just think the 3-5 years is a little optimistic.

I got called out today:

Does the blatant racism in this discussion bother anybody else? Tim’s comment about blacks of all ecomonic groups feeling attached to East Austin as an entrenched problem for that neighborhood… WTF? And should we really cheer for the removal of poor people at gun point? I haven’t read all these posts, but it seems like the silence in response to some very objectionable statement is deafening. There’s a moral difference in making money by investing in companies with long term potential (a al Buffet) and investing in making a neighborhood unaffordable for its residents, demolishing their housing, and advocating their dispersal, all so you can sell at a nice profit in 3-5 years.

Thankfully I was defended by the owner of the blog, who pointed out I was merely stating the historical facts. And so my response:

I don’t know where you got a racist attitude in my post. I wasn’t saying that blacks feeling attached to East Austin was a problem. It’s a reaction to the fact that throughout the twentieth century Austin forced its black citizens to move into East Austin, where they systematically denied them services. This has created an enormous amount of acrimony between the community and the city (which I would actually contend is generally well founded). I fail to see how that statement is racist. Go talk to prominent members of the community and see if you get a different story from mine.

I haven’t seen anything about the removal of poor people at gun point in the comments. Gentrification is difficult, but that’s the system we live in. I don’t understand the idea of “investing in making a neighborhood unfordable for its residents”. East Austin is already unaffordable for some of its residents. Heck, it’s already unaffordable for most Austinites. It’s not investors that have made it that way. It’s proximity to downtown. Its the fact that a house a couple miles away from East Austin in Travis Heights goes for $500k+. The only reason the neighborhood is affordable at all is that the city has neglected the schools, businesses have redlined the area, there are perceived problems with crime, problems with police/community relations, and the housing stock is dilapidated. So essentially, every problem that gets fixed that makes East Austin a better place, also raises the values of the homes.

But do we stop trying to improve the schools or lower crime just so the poorer residents can continue to afford their homes? Do we only allow slum-lord investors in, since they’ll help make the neighborhood worse? Maintaining the status-quo seems to me to be even worse.

The lack of affordable inner-city housing is predominantly caused by neighborhoods associations consistently defeating high density projects. There simply is not enough supply of housing in the central core for any of it to be affordable. If we can increase the supply in central austin, it will eventually lower prices. Until we get more housing or some very complex legislation we’re going to keep seeing displacement.

It’s awesome, though because I realize that was me 5 years ago. Very knee-jerk response to a very emotional issue. Calling someone racist is a very effective way to shut them up. I’ve got to stop doing that. It’s really annoying.