Council approves anti-displacement funding for Project Connect’s second year

Monday March 7th, 2022 by Kali Bramble

Forty-one million dollars has officially been on its way to the affordable housing pipeline since last Thursday, when City Council decided to allocate funds from Project Connect’s $300 million anti-displacement budget over the next fiscal year.

The resolution, sponsored by Council member Ann Kitchen, commits $21 million to existing housing development assistance programs with the stipulation that investments are within one mile of planned transit lines. The remaining $20 million will fund anti-displacement community initiatives currently under development.

While voters overwhelmingly approved the transit project in 2020many remain concerned that the resulting development will exacerbate the gentrification patterns plaguing the city.

“These funds are critical to ensuring that we support our low-income and working-class communities, as well as communities of color, as they begin to feel the pressures of transit-induced displacement,” Awais said. Azhar, Community Advisory Chair of Project Connect.

The distribution of the 300 million dollars has begun Last year with a $23 million investment in land acquisition programs, initiating the process of bringing more affordable housing units along transit corridors. So far, city employees have used these funds to launch a community acquisition program, known as ADCAP, which provides local nonprofits with the means to purchase and develop land for affordable housing.

“At this stage, we have allocated $8 million to local community corporations to acquire land for small-scale affordable housing development,” said Mandy De Mayo, staff member of the Department of Housing and Town Planning. “We should see the first-ever ADCAP award arrive at the Austin Housing and Finance Corporation board of directors on March 24, which we are very excited about.”

With 13 years to allocate funds, Kitchen stressed the need for the remaining land acquisition programs to move forward quickly. “We need to have more conversations about frontloading those dollars, because if you look at the fact that we’re allocating millions 13 years from now, it’s really too late. We will have to have further discussions with the Austin Transit Partnership, this is part of the review process that we have written into the Joint Powers Agreement.

At the same time, the Board recognized the need for a rigorous community engagement process. Spearheading this effort is the Project Connect Community Advisory Board, which recently developed a Racial Equity Program anti-travel tool which will light up the $20 million set aside for community initiatives in fiscal year 2022.

Yet some wonder if such initiatives will help those who need it most. “I immediately raise my antennae when you mention Project Connect because when you talk about anti-displacement and affordability, it means something different to everyone,” said community organizer Frances Acuña. “I want the city manager to assess the risk of displacement not at 60% of median family income, but at the 30 and 40% levels of MFIs which are more representative of the Eastern Crescent.”

Over the next few months, staff expects the completion of a federally-funded transit-focused equitable development study to help refine more specific investments. In the meantime, those interested in the ongoing discussions can Register to attend the next Community Advisory Committee meeting, which will be held virtually on Thursday, March 10.

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