Austin has been called the most economically segregated city in the nation. Now, the Austin City Council is taking steps to try and bring more jobs to the East Side, an area that’s historically been home to minority populations and the economically disadvantaged.
The council action focuses on the part of Austin known around city hall as the “eastern crescent.” That includes neighborhoods in central East Austin, Del Valle, Dove Springs and Montopolis. On Thursday evening, council members passed a resolution that calls for restructuring the city’s economic incentives in order to attract more jobs to those areas. During public comment, they heard from David King, former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, who says economic incentives haven’t always brought jobs to the areas that need it most.
"And I just wonder, too, if the Office of Equity shouldn’t take a look at these economic development incentive programs and provide you with input on how they see the impact that they may have on our community,” King said.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who co-sponsored the measure, agreed that the city’s Equity Office should be involved in future discussions. For now, the resolution aims to create more middle-skill jobs in East Austin. Those are positions that would likely require some training beyond a high school diploma, but not a four-year degree, such as IT work and health care. Council Member Delia Garza, who represents District 2, wanted to be sure that companies that receive these incentives will offer the same benefits to employees.
“Right now, any kind of economic incentives require a living wage, require a prevailing wage, domestic partnership benefits,” Garza said.
Mayor Adler said he would work with Garza to clarify the language and ensure that those benefits aren’t lost.
“That’s how it’s intended,” Adler said. “We’re not trying to take anything away. We’re trying to find additional focus, and again, personally, I don’t want us to be involved in trying to recruit jobs here that don’t pay a living wage or don’t provide those benefits. That’s not the purpose of this.”
Mayor Adler has worked with Travis County to develop the Community Workforce Master Plan. It calls for employing 10,000 economically disadvantaged Travis County residents in middle-skill jobs by 2022. The resolution also calls for providing training opportunities and directing jobs to people who are “hard to employ.” That includes those who receive welfare, people with disabilities, and people with a criminal record. Now that the measure has passed, the city manager has 90 days to bring back recommendations to city council.