Austin’s Housing Department Hates Families

The recent Affordability Impact Statement produced by city housing staffers for the proposed “Phase 1” of single family lot use modifications (Case Number C20-2023-024) furnishes useful insight into current thinking inside the city’s housing department. While the document proclaims that the proposed resolution would produce “mixed results” and that “market driven” solutions grounded in dogmatic adherence to neoliberal densification policies would not lower prices absent strong market regulations, what struck me most is this: housing staffers do not understand either the history or the intent of the Fair Housing Act. Here is an excerpt of the staff’s analysis. The full analysis can be downloaded here.

Permit me to state it another way. The above analysis produced by the city’s housing staffers reflects the current thinking among many “progressive” fair housing advocates, a large number of whom have been influenced by books such as Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law” and similar tomes. This identity politics driven fair housing consensus was on full display five years ago at the city’s “50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act” conference (dutifully organized by the former “First Lady of District 3” Mrs. Sabino “Pio” Renteria) wherein “segregation” was adjudged to be the primary affordability evil impacting protected classes, especially Blacks, not hedge funds, corporate investors, or real estate advocacy organizations and their lawyers. In political practice it produces milquetoast identity politics neoliberals masquerading as “progressives” such as Senator Elizabeth Warren and two of her local surrogates, former Austin city councillor and current member of the House of Representatives Greg Casar and current District 9 city council member Zohaib “Zo” Quadri.

As a matter of policy their local playbook is pretty straightforward: hate (or at least pretend to hate) cops, and love (and take wads of cash from) real estate interests, unions and the usual retinue of identity politics advocacy organizations (at least the ones with money to give), all while greenwashing and equity-washing the dirty doings. As for Casar, he’s had to recalibrate his politics for a more national audience, which means more properly visible fealty to the National Security State.

To be clear, the original intent of the Fair Housing Act was to protect families, particularly families with children. How, then, has the act been twisted into a tool for justifying over-simplified claims declaring local dwelling unit limits as an act of segregationist evil against “marginalized Austinites?” Let’s dig a little deeper into the heart of the analysis’ claims.

First, let’s be clear: the Fair Housing Act permits cities to enact “reasonable” dwelling unit limits. Austin’s dwelling unit occupancy limits apply to unrelated adults, meaning those adults are not related by blood, marriage, domestic partnership, or adoption. Which means that gay or lesbian families are clearly protected, which was, as stated, an original intent of the Fair Housing Act, which in fact does encourage, even promote “nuclear families” as do many other laws and policies, at every level of government.

What for me is rather telling is the analysis’ lack of mention of veterans and veteran homelessness concerns as a fair housing issue, despite the fact that veterans are also a protected class. Could it be because the Austin City Council has no elected veterans, or because few to none of the confused ideologues inside the city’s housing brain trust have no military background whatsoever?

There’s also this: occupancy limits exist for legitimate health and safety reasons. Runaway housing unaffordability has not only produced record homelessness, but increasing numbers of “under-housed” folks who are living double, triple, even quadrupled up in sub-standard housing. Does anybody serious actually believe that the solution for this state of affairs is to subsidize more trickle down luxury housing?

This is about more than intellectual bias. At the end of the day, what this signals is the determined anti-family agenda of pro real estate boosters. There are reasons why they wanted—and continue to want—to scrub any mention of “families” from local land use policies and persist in seeking to cram a “form based code” down our throats. They won’t rest until the American Dream of a single family home, where, in the words of the old Louisiana populist Senator Huey Long, “every man can be a king” is dead.

Perhaps they have already succeeded. While I was out trick or treating with my family last week, the lack of families with children in the central city was sad and disconcerting to observe. DINKS (dual income, no kids) and dogs have replaced children in communities such as Bouldin Creek, South Congress and Travis Heights, even Hyde Park. Apparently these days the “nuclear families” in Austin reside in city council District 9’s Robert Mueller neighborhood, the location of Austin’s original airport, and original “new urbanist utopia.”

Want to know what this Black man sees? Kick out the Black families, replace them with more upwardly mobile and richer new arrivals, and simultaneously call it “anti-segregation” and “economic development.” Land use neoliberalism in a nutshell, perfect for an ambitious “housing” or “justice” non-profit to take on as a “growth” opportunity.

Further reading: five years ago, as the above mentioned Fair Housing Act conference was taking place, I wrote a blog post entitled “The Most Important Housing Law Passed in 1968 Wasn’t the Fair Housing Act” which was later picked up by Shelterforce and published. I encourage you to read it.