My Testimony at the Final Meeting of Austin’s Anti-Displacement Task Force

The most recent incarnation of Austin’s anti-gentrification task force, this time known as the Anti-Displacement Task Force held its final meeting on Friday, November 9, 2018.  The purpose of the meeting was to finalize their draft final Anti-Displacement Task Force Draft Report and wrap up any loose ends.  Two people testified during the public comment portion of the meeting.  Here is what I said:

Comments of Dr. Fred L. McGhee on the Final Draft of the Anti-Displacement Task Force Report:

Ladies and Gentlemen, the primary challenge before you is simple:  how much courage you are willing to display through direct and precise language to genuinely challenge our city council to finally take meaningful action to arrest and reverse gentrification and displacement.  I see such courage in the faces of my neighbors every day; even when they’re a hair’s breath away from losing their homes, their communities, their businesses, their way of life.  These are the people you need to represent; the families that are most impacted by our city’s odious real estate development practices.

As a sailor I know that when in turbulent waters it is not enough just to look at the waves you must also look beneath them.  I have sat where you are.  In my quarter century in this city I have served on predecessor bodies to this anti-displacement task force.  We too produced lists of policy recommendations.  It obviously wasn’t enough.

It should by now be abundantly clear that the real question you should have been spending the past several months investigating and debating is this:  why has the Austin city council over the past 20 years been engaged in destructive polices it knows have displaced thousands of our fellow citizens and their families, and that have erased irreplaceable parts of our city’s cultural heritage?

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That question has an answer, but you need to want to want to properly answer it.  And that requires guts – because the answer points a finger at people and institutions in our city that have long escaped such scrutiny.  Political and economic power in our city is not distributed equitably.  We do have public policy winners and losers in Austin. 

We must understand the difference between symbols and substance,  programs and policies, and the differences between good intentions and meaningful action.  Earlier this year you endorsed the People’s Plan, but key provisions of our plan are missing from your draft final report.  Would you care to explain why that is?

For instance, our plan was very specific about the establishment of a new and distinct low income housing trust fund seed funded with $16 million dollars in general revenue.  I get that the neighborhood housing staff and others don’t like that part of the People’s Plan, but you’re not obligated to do what they tell you they would or would not like.

In conclusion, allow me to observe this:  it is an axiom of politics that when politicians don’t want to do something, they establish a committee or task force to “study” the matter.  The Kerner Commission was one such body.  50 years ago it issued its findings and recommendations.  They infuriated President Johnson and jolted the conscience of a nation.  That’s what you need to be doing now, here.