As Austin’s new land development code, CodeNEXT, is being crafted, some residents see the process as a chance to address longstanding issues of racial and economic inequity.
Neighborhood activist Susana Almanza says Austin needs to talk about its past before it plans the future. Almanza, a member of the Eastern Crescent Right to Stay Coalition, notes that Austin’s 1928 Master Plan relegated black and brown residents to the East Side. Now, rising land values and rapid redevelopment are displacing many of those people.
“It’s very important to look at the whole issue of equity, because historically, the land use policies have been very racist,” Almanza says.
Almanza and other local leaders will take part in a panel hosted by HABLA on Wednesday that looks at CodeNEXT from the Hispanic perspective. While many panelists agree that racial inequities persist in Austin, they differ on how to address them.
Almanza wants the city to evaluate the proposed code from an equity standpoint. She also wants to “put the brakes on CodeNEXT” until the city does more to reverse the effects of historically racist planning efforts.
Council Member Delia Garza, meanwhile, says delaying the scheduled vote in April simply leaves the current bad policies in place.
“I really hope that Austinites do a gut check and understand that keeping our land code the same is really hurting our low-income and our minority families the most,” she says.
Garza represents District 2, which encompasses much of Southeast Austin. At a recent council meeting, she said the CodeNEXT process has been hindered from the start because certain neighborhoods have adopted policies that essentially exempt them from taking on new housing development.
“Under the current version of CodeNEXT, housing is not being considered in those neighborhoods,” she says. “It doesn’t stop development. It pushes it to other parts of Austin. It’s like basic physics. Water is going to flow where the path of least resistance [is].”
Garza says she’s not completely ruling out the idea of a CodeNEXT delay, but she’d support one only if it meant meaningful improvement.
Francisco Enriquez with the nonprofit advocacy group Evolve Austin says even with a delay, the city – and its housing problems – continues to grow.
“Every day that we delay, affordability gets worse,” Enriquez says. “Every day we delay, traffic gets worse. Every day that we delay, sprawl gets worse.”
Earlier this month, Evolve Austin released a transit study on CodeNEXT that found that the proposed code needs to allow for denser housing in order to support more public transit infrastructure.
“One thing that we want to see is equitable access to public transit around the city, which means that we need to design our city through our land development code to allow for the necessary number of jobs and houses to support buses and trains in the city,” he says.
To be clear, the Evolve study looked at the first draft of CodeNEXT, and the city has since released a second draft.
The panel on equity runs from 7:30 to 9 a.m. tomorrow at Juan in a Million on Cesar Chavez Street.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that HABLA is hosting the panel.