Students, consider gentrification when making housing decisions

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Photo Credit: David Perez Barbosa | Daily Texan Staff

Correction: An earlier version of this column mischaracterized quotes and ideas attributed to Ethan Smith. The mischaracterizations have since been corrected. The Texan regrets this error.

With increased recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement over the summer and the upcoming presidential election, many students have become more aware of the societal racism that encompasses everyday aspects of our lives, including where we live.

Unfortunately, gentrification and the displacement of historically Black and Hispanic communities is extremely common in Austin. It’s our job as students to try and combat it by thoroughly researching where we decide to live and making informed housing decisions.

The decisions students make now about housing will affect the Austin community for decades, even though most students only stay in the area for about four years. 

As a freshman, my email and Instagram DMs have been filled with real estate agents asking me to consider housing in their area next fall.

Some of these apartment complexes are purposefully located in East Austin, where the central attraction is the “diverse culture.” However, the people who built this culture are being pushed out by expensive housing units that monetize their “diversity.”

Real estate companies are partially to blame for the new high prices that force people out of their homes.

“They’re in a business to make profit,” said Annika Olson, assistant director of policy research for the University’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis. “Sure, they could make less money and probably save more homes and help more vulnerable populations, but that's not really the goal.”

UT should also be held accountable for the displacement of the people who make the university so culturally appealing.

Human dimensions of organizations senior Ethan Smith is currently conducting his thesis on how universities make housing decisions. Smith said that through certain guidelines adopted by the City, students have been packed into West Campus.

“Students are intentionally being put into one neighborhood,” Smith said. “That is the policy of the city of Austin and of the University.”

This process of purposefully concentrating students into a residential area is known as “studentification.” 

Because UT has limited affordable on-campus housing options, students are pushed into nearby West Campus, but as the area becomes crowded and overpriced, real estate companies help students find financial solace in East Austin.

For some students, housing options are limited and the prices of certain locations often dictate housing decisions. Nonetheless, students need to do their research before they sign off on a lease.

“Dig into a little bit of the history,” Olson said. “Does it look funky that half of Riverside is strictly bougie and has a different name and the other half doesn't look like it's been touched in 20 years?”

As Austin residents, students have a responsibility to research how to keep Austin affordable for everyone. Although the University is primarily to blame, this issue is far too pressing for students to ignore.

“Students are not just a part of UT, they're a part of the community of the city of Austin,” Olson said. “You ride the bus with people who do live in East Austin. Their homes are affected by where you choose to live.”

Students’ real estate decisions will have long-term consequences. 

“We’re a pretty segregated city,” Olson said. “This is a really important topic, and if it doesn't get addressed now and on an ongoing basis, it's going to be really, really difficult to address in the future.” 

UT students returning to campus in the fall need to do real research on where they’re living and help others become socially aware, as we’re all responsible for keeping Austin weird and inclusive.

Gomez is a journalism freshman from Lewisville, TX.