Though it’s funded largely by realtors, the pro-CodeNEXT group “Evolve Austin” has always touted itself as a grassroots organization that has our community’s best interests in mind. “There has never been a coalition as broad and diverse, working towards the same goal, as the one you see here today,” the group’s director announced at a splashy press event last summer in East Austin’s Montopolis neighborhood.
As of this week, Evolve Austin is a little less broad and a lot less diverse. The once-supportive Austin Justice Coalition (AJC) withdrew its membership from the group late last month, citing its own commitment to provide low-income Austinites with affordable housing. Highly respected among Austin’s civic leaders and neighborhood activists, AJC advocates for police accountability, criminal justice reform, educational and employment opportunities, and other public policies designed to end institutional racism.
In an email sent to Evolve Austin and obtained by Community Not Commodity, AJC’s founder indicated that the group was pulling its support because CodeNEXT won’t provide the housing that low-income Austinites need, particularly in areas of town where the displacement of longtime families is occurring at a breakneck pace. “We believe the best way to address these issues is robust, public investments,” he wrote, “and programs to regulate development in these gentrifying areas.”
This is big news. Evolve Austin has always claimed that CodeNEXT will boost the construction of new homes, reduce gentrification, and provide more housing options for all local residents. Community Not Commodity and others have long argued the opposite, because the controversial rewrite of our local land development code won’t encourage the construction of all types of housing: It will instead pack Central and East Austin with more high-end condominiums and other luxury developments than they already have. If CodeNEXT is passed in its current form, local rents and taxes will go up even faster than they are now. Gentrification will intensify. Everyday Austinites will lose, and realtors eager to reap inflated commission fees will win.
East Austin’s community leaders know this. Last month, the NAACP, PODER, and other likeminded groups publicly denounced CodeNEXT and released their own six-step plan for fighting gentrification and displacement. Soon thereafter, members of the Austin City Council were forced to admit that CodeNEXT will do nothing to help people of low and modest incomes find housing.
So the next time someone tells you that CodeNEXT will solve affordability, displacement, and the other issues facing Austin’s most vulnerable communities, please think twice!