Project Connect in Austin, TX promises to take the concerns and issues of neighbors who will be living next to the new proposed Orange and Blue rail lines into consideration when locating stations and beginning construction.
A resolution set forth by those hoping to impact decisions for Project Connect includes several potential anti-displacement policies. According to their resolution, these could include land-banking, tax increment financing, acquisiton of existing affordabe housing, right to stay and right to return policies, and acquiring properties for affordable housing, especially those partially in the right of way for the light rails.
Part of the outreach to the community by Cap Metro and the City of Austin is to host virtual meetings with breakout sessions for the people who will be most impacted by the rail lines and their construction.
The live virtual meetings will be held July 27 through Aug. 5 in two-hour sessions, with breakout sessions to discuss the projects at a neighborhood level.
Cap Metro and the City of Austin are inviting volunteers to participate in the process, with part of the purpose being to allow local residents and business owners in the areas surrounding the light rails to talk with the design team about the sections of the line that will pass through their neighborhood. Go to capmetro.org/get-involved to volunteer to attend the virtual meetings and get involved in the ultimate design of the light rails.
Kyle Shelton, director of strategic partnerships at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, studies transportation and planning policy in Houston. He told the Austin Monitor that "large-scale public projects like Project Connect can directly contribute to displacement and significant neighborhood change, but that proactively engaging residents ahead of time raises the potential for infrastructure to increase equity and opportunity for communities vulnerable to displacement."
As in other proposed and actual projects prior to Project Connect, neighborhoods that have been displaced are located largely in traditionally minority communities. They are also often in neighborhoods with an aging population of home owners. When displaced, no matter what compensation they receive, in today's real estate market in Austin they can't afford to buy elsewhere in the city of Austin. With the spread of higher real estate prices into surrounding communities in Travis County, it's difficult to relocate anywhere near the city of Austtin, where many have spent most of their lives.
The advantage to having light rail lines in these type neighborhoods is the increased ability for the elderly and minority populations to travel to parts of Austin they may not have had access to before. This mobility can lead to more and better job opporunites in other parts of the city outside the neighborhoods.
Shelton says, "An investment like Project Connect and its anti-displacement components could ultimately benefit existing residents along the future transit corridors while also creating opportunities for new residents of various income levels to enjoy increased access to other parts of the city."
Shelton continues, “Obviously you want to maintain historic connections and long-term residents for reasons in and of themselves, but there is also a huge benefit for permitting folks with low incomes to stay and relocate into those areas. So I think once you’re creating an opportunity like a better transit system, you want to find ways to get folks who don’t currently have access to opportunities into those spaces as well.”
The Austin Justice Coalition states, "We need advocates and coalitions that are not afraid to engage in long-term thinking. Our plans must consider the flows of resources and power, with a vision towards racial reckoning and spatial and mobility justice. We must reconsider our relationships to every aspect of the city, including the parts we so often take for granted. Our designs should prioritize people and communities, rather than placemaking for profit. They should reflect the wisdom and values forged in experiences of collective struggle. And they must proactively prevent displacement, reconsidering metrics, epistemic biases, or standard practices that produce exclusionary results. If Project Connect is to be part of this new paradigm, it will be because we have worked collectively to make it so."
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