Setting the Record Straight About the Austin People’s Plan

The Austin Monitor’s recent story about the City of Austin’s Plan to “mitigate” displacement correctly quoted me as not seeing much of the People’s Plan reflected in the city’s anti-displacement strategy. But there is more, of course, to the story.

City staffers in the Neighborhood Housing department as well as members of the city’s Equity Office met with leaders of the People’s Plan coalition in October of 2018, pursuant to the city council’s May 2018 directive for staff to analyze the People’s Plan. It should be noted that the resolution directed staff to furnish its analysis by the end of August of 2018, not 2019; but at this stage that’s neither here nor there. You can download a copy of the staff’s analysis of the plan, dated August 7, 2019, here.

The findings and recommendations aren’t surprising. In April of 2019 we held a “State of the People’s Plan” press conference at city hall. The photograph above is from that event (photo credit: Barbara McArthur). A copy of my prepared remarks can be downloaded here.

I furnished a response to the staff’s draft analysis of the People’s Plan in late October of 2018, and would like to reproduce it here. I think it can help shine light on how the city actually views gentrification and displacement, and on how contemptuous the city actually is of citizen-led initiatives, especially those that confront the hegemonic power of real estate, finance, and insurance.

It should be noted that the People’s Plan was not a radical proposal. Its draft resolutions were culled from plans already in existence in other cities. There were parts of the plan I disagreed with, but I persisted in support for the sake of consensus. The rejection of such a soft plan by city staffers shows rather clearly that the city is more interested in symbolism than substance.

My response to staff’s draft analysis

McGhee People’s Plan Response p.1
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McGhee People’s Plan Response p.2
McGhee People’s Plan Response p.3

Download a pdf copy of my memo to city staff here.

My memo is policy focused, but asks many questions. Have the city’s pension funds been benefiting from gentrification? How have the real estate portfolios of those funds grown over the past twenty years? What is the responsibility of these taxpayer financed funds to address displacement?

On the historic preservation and environmental quality front, how many historic properties has the city lost in the Eastern Crescent since 2000? Why does the city, not scrupulously analyze the predictable consequences of its discretionary decisions upon the “human environment” in conjunction with, and in democratic consultation with, the public? Why only, and primarily, focus upon the “economic” impacts?

These are important questions, and they can be answered both qualitatively as well as quantitatively, but in the Austin of 2019 they are off limits.