The Austin City Council is moving forward with plans for the region’s first-ever fair housing assessment. The effort aims to shed light on issues of housing discrimination across Central Texas.
The federal Fair Housing Act was designed to protect people from discrimination when renting, buying or financing a home, but biased practices persist in cities across the U.S. Council members voted to take part in the regional housing assessment earlier this year; on Thursday they approved $250,000 in funding to hire a consulting firm to lead the effort.
Council Member Greg Casar said the city has to make tough decisions when it comes to addressing housing needs.
“We are stuck between two hard choices, oftentimes either putting affordable units in already segregated areas or not building them at all,” Casar said. “Neither of those are great choices, and obviously, we need places for people to live.”
Casar raised this issue last week, when council voted in favor of two new affordable housing projects – both of them outside city limits. He noted the developments are in low- or moderate-opportunity areas, i.e., they have fewer economic opportunities than areas with good schools, jobs and other amenities.
“And so the real solution is to do an assessment of where we are putting these affordable housing projects and then figuring out how we can continue to build those units," he said. "But [the city should] start building those units in different kinds of neighborhoods, so that no one specific neighborhood is walled off because of lack of affordability."
The regional study is expected to look into that issue, as well as patterns of housing segregation and racially concentrated poverty. City staff have noted that patterns of discrimination don’t happen in a vacuum and can happen across jurisdictional boundaries.
Matthew Ramirez, a planner with Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development office, said the assessment could help create some uniformity in the patchwork of regulations across the region, as well as within city limits.
“We’re going to get a whole lot more data on what’s going on right now in the fair housing world for Austin. There’s a lot of different processes and a lot of different resolutions and things that have come out of council that relate to fair housing and gentrification," he said. "Staff is going to make sure that they all speak to each other.”
The council plans to use the assessment to come up with new policy initiatives that affect areas across the region for the next five years.