Do Texas cities care about gentrification?

The problem of the displacement of low-income families from long-established inner city neighborhoods has become a major issue in the Texas news media. But there is reason to doubt that local governments care about the problem.

Recent stories in the Austin, Houston and Dallas newspapers have all pointed out the rapid displacement of long time low income residents from neighborhoods near the downtown areas. In Houston it is Freedman’s Town, in Dallas it is West Dallas and in Austin it is East Austin.

The forces at work are a combination of real estate speculators, public investment in infrastructure and the pressure of property tax increases on low-income homeowners. A conference call today with community leaders in Dallas crystallized the problem for me. The bottom line is that city governments may give lip service to concern over low-income residents being pushed out of these neighborhoods, but local officials are actually more than happy to see an increase in their property tax bases fueled by gentrification.

Consider this quote in a Dallas Morning News story on 5/31/2008 about massive land speculation that has hit West Dallas…

Former City Council member Ed Oakley, who represented Oak Cliff neighborhoods, said the investments in West Dallas don’t surprise him.

“It’s what people have been waiting for,” he said, and comes on the heels of other investment and development in north Oak Cliff.

Mr. Oakley said if the investor purchases in West Dallas help get development going in that area, “the city would stand up and cheer.”

In the case of Austin, State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez passed a tremendous tool to help the city address the East Austin gentrification problem.  Known as the Homestead Preservation District legislation it grants powers to the city to enact land banks, dedicate tax increment finance district funds for affordable housing and provides several other tools.  Yet three years after passage the city has yet to use any of the tools Rodriguez’ legislation provides.  It makes you wonder whether city hall will ever act to deal with a problems that has now moved squarely into the public view.