No one who drives by 4700 East Riverside Drive today would notice anything out of the ordinary. It’s just under 100 acres in size and contains a handful of unremarkable-looking apartment complexes, all built in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
For the moment, though, the site is serving as ground zero for Austin’s twin epidemics of gentrification and displacement. Neighborhood activists are waging a high-profile fight with a group of land speculators who want to tear down the apartments and replace them with “Project Catalyst,” a massive mixed-use development that the local media has compared to the Domain shopping center in North Austin.
The affordability of those apartments is at the heart of the battle. 4700 East Riverside sits squarely in the middle of the 78741 zip code, an area whose population is made up largely of lower-income Latinos. Its five complexes contain 1,308 market-rate affordable rental units and a total of 3,702 bedrooms, an island of affordability in one of the fastest-gentrifying areas of our community. (It’s located just southeast of Oracle’s gleaming new campus, which was built after scores of families were evicted from a different group of apartments to make room for the tech giant.)
That means 4700 East Riverside ought to qualify for protection from redevelopment under anti-displacement language that the Austin City Council issued earlier this year. Here’s the key passage:
The granting of new entitlements in areas currently or susceptible to gentrification should be limited so as to reduce displacement and dis-incentivize the redevelopment of multi-family residential development, unless substantial increases in long-term affordable housing will be otherwise achieved.
In plain English, the council is saying that any land developer who wants to tear down housing like the Riverside apartments needs to ensure that equally affordable housing is built, either on the same site or elsewhere in the community.
To accomplish that, land developers are asked to take part in the city’s “density bonus” program, which allows them to construct buildings taller or larger than zoning laws would otherwise permit in exchange for new, affordable units or a payment into an affordable-housing fund.
But the residents of 4700 East Riverside Drive have a major problem: No land developer is required to take part in the density bonus program. City of Austin Planning and Zoning Director Jerry Rusthoven confirmed that fact earlier this month—and sure enough, none of the developers working in the quickly gentrifying East Riverside corridor have done so.
That hasn’t stopped our city council from charging forward with the rezoning requests made by the “Domain on Riverside” developers. On Thursday, August 22, they could grant final approval to those requests, opening the door to the demolition of the apartments at 4700 East Riverside, the displacement of their residents, and the construction of yet another high-end, mixed-use playground for the wealthy.
Enough is enough. Contact Mayor Steve Adler and your city council member today, and tell them our community can’t afford the “Domain on Riverside” unless we have anti-displacement policies that actually work. (Check this map if you aren’t sure which council member represents you.)
Together we can build an Austin for everyone!