Apr 4, 2023 - News

Austin recruits workers to prevent displacement

Illustration of one old fashioned key surrounded by newer keys.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

In a new tactic aimed at helping residents vulnerable to gentrification, Austin's housing department is hiring Austinites to educate renters and homeowners about how they can stay in their homes.

Driving the news: Displacement Prevention Navigators, as they will be known, are intended to bridge the gap between eligible households and existing resources.

Between the lines: More than a third of local households are cost-burdened — meaning they pay more than 1/3 of their income for housing — due to quickly rising home prices, rents and property taxes.

  • It can be difficult to know where to begin to look for help, and going through multiple application processes can be overwhelming and discouraging for some residents.

The one-year pilot program, with a budget of $360,000, will focus on two East Austin neighborhoods with high risk of displacement: Colony Park and Dove Springs.

  • The neighborhoods have higher shares of both cost-burdened residents and residents who have lived in their homes for more than 20 years.
  • The city is also planning key investments in these neighborhoods, including public transportation expansion — which could accelerate displacement as property values in nearby neighborhoods rise.

What they're saying: "By recruiting housing navigators from within the communities they serve, we will reach more folks and build a bench of community advocates, all while helping keep people in their homes," District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said in a statement.

Catch up quick: To combat gentrification, Austin officials have eased construction rules and in 2020 Austin voters approved $300 million of anti-displacement funding.

Yes, but: Market forces are outstripping the city's actions.

  • Eviction filings in Austin have returned to pre-pandemic levels.
  • And per the city's most recent affordable housing status report, released in September, nine out of 10 Council districts failed to achieve district-based affordable housing production goals, and seven out of 10 did not even meet half of their goals, the Austin Monitor reported.

What's next: The application deadline to become a navigator is April 30.

  • Navigators will be paid $25 per hour for the year-long, part-time program. City officials tell Axios they plan to select 12 to 15 navigators.

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