Aid groups seek to ease burden of gentrification

Jillian Bliss

A study conducted by UT undergraduates is helping longtime East Austin residents receive the funds they need to remain in their homes.

Members of the East Austin Conservancy and People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources created the Preserve Eastside Affordability Campaign to assist low-income residents in the Govalle-Johnston Terrace neighborhood in East Austin.

Students in a senior capstone geography course studied and compiled data on the direct relationship between increasing home values and increasing property taxes in the East Austin area, referred to as gentrification. The data provided the basis for a set of criteria area residents need to meet in order to receive assistance from the program. The program will provide 20 of the 44 homes meeting its criteria with tax money owed for last year and match every property tax dollar paid by individuals for the current year.

Sara Blasdell graduated in May after participating in the geography course and said conducting the research made her realize there are more important issues than those in her personal life.

“The data we gathered is actually connected to people this program can benefit,” Blasdell said. “Now that we know there’s a problem we are obligated to help.”

Analysis of the students’ data showed increases in property taxes forces some residents to relocate, an issue Raul Alvarez, East Austin Conservancy president, said especially affects retired residents relying on fixed incomes. Alvarez said he believes the community owes something to these citizens because they have spent the most time contributing to society.

“There’s an entity that focuses on preserving what matters,” Alvarez said. “A lot of things are being lost with changes in the community, and we owe it to residents to help them stay in their homes.”

To qualify for assistance, residents need to have lived in the neighborhood since 1992, maintain a household income of at least half the area’s median family income, file an application for assistance and agree to attend personal finance management sessions.

Alvarez said he hopes the program will grow and be able to offer more assistance in the future.

Daniel Llanes, East Austin resident and artist, said working together with other Austinites is the only way to solve concerns related to gentrification, which he blames for increasing taxes and a lack of diversity in his area. Money for the program is donated by individual and organizational fundraising efforts. Llanes said the area has traditionally been known for sustaining a culture based on helping others, and he believes the fundraising attempts will support that culture.

“Those who have been able to prosper should be able to give back,” Llanes said. “That speaks to a tradition of helping others, and that is the cultural value of this project.”