Erasing Lines

I’d like to talk for a moment about erasing the lines that divide Austin.

In 1928 Austin drew a line through itself that deliberately separated two groups: blacks and whites. By 1932 the line drawing had been completely successful. Austin was 100% segregated.

Today some people, including elected officials, are advocating drawing more lines, including lines around the centers of our neighborhoods. People without money on one side, those with money on the other. And this comes when we are already the worst city in America when it comes to separating people on the basis of how much money they have.

It’s time to erase the lines that separate us, not draw more of them. Our current zoning map shows many of the lines we’ve drawn over the years. The yellow single family area is where we have literally made affordable forms of housing illegal.

The orange multifamily area is where people with less money can live (the orange area is almost invisible on the map; the red area is commercial and the brown area is mixed use). We should finally erase the lines between orange and yellow so that all neighborhood scale housing options, including small to medium apartment buildings, could be built throughout the city. That’s what our legally binding comp plan says we are going to do, but now that it’s time to actually do it (as part of the CodeNEXT process), some of our politicians are balking.

The following photo shows a single family detached house and a 16 unit multifamily property right next door (no “transition zone” and no significant buffer) that have peacefully coexisted for nearly 70 years in the heart of Tarrytown. Allowing this to happen does not damage the neighborhood or raise or lower anyone’s property value. It does provide affordability and housing diversity. The 2 bedroom condo’s are assessed at $216,000 – the single family home at $752,000, 3 ½ times the price of the homes next door. The assessed value of the land – $111,000 for each condo; $495,000 for the single family home next door.

The lines we have drawn have caused enormous segregation and community in-fighting, and ruined our city’s affordability. It’s time to reject lines – between neighborhoods, between housing types, around the centers of neighborhoods, or anywhere else that divides people and where they are able to live. We need to build all housing options at all price points in all neighborhoods.

We must welcome all Austin residents into every part of the city. All of us deserve to be welcomed everywhere, not told that we can only live in a specific part of the city, like our black population was told in 1928.

Austin’s segregation problem has already hit the national media: Ebony Magazine, CNN, the Huffington Post, the NY Times and others. We are risking Austin’s identity, its soul, and its national reputation, and we’d better do something – and fast.

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