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Community Development Clinic releases report recommending new approaches to assist tenants displaced by apartment redevelopment in Austin, will host panel discussion on October 26, 2012

The Community Development Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law has released a report examining the City of Austin’s ad hoc policy for dealing with tenant displacement issues in conjunction with the demolition of an apartment complex on East Riverside Drive last year that displaced more than five hundred low-income tenants. In order to better protect tenants who are displaced from future apartment demolitions, the report recommends the adoption of a uniform citywide tenant relocation ordinance with stronger enforcement mechanisms.

A briefing on the report followed by a panel discussion will be held on Friday, October 26, from 12:15 p.m.–1:30 p.m. at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, in SRH 3.122, and is hosted by the UT Opportunity Forum as part of the 2012–2013 Gentrification Series. The panel will include Austin Councilmember Laura Martinez, Michael Wilt with Big Red Dog Engineering, and Blanca Zamora-Garcia with Casa Blanca Realty.

The report, which focuses on the displacement of tenants from Shoreline Apartments in 2011 to make way for a $200 million upscale, mixed-used development, examines why the developer at Shoreline was able to ignore for so long the City’s requirement to assist the tenants with securing new housing. The City Council granted a rezoning request to the company redeveloping Shoreline on the condition that the developer provide the tenants with relocation assistance and counseling to help them secure new housing.  According to the report, the implementation of the relocation policy at Shoreline “was by and large disastrous.”  Despite the agreement with the City, the Clinic’s report finds that the developer failed to deliver the promised assistance until advocates intervened, while the City of Austin failed to monitor the developer’s compliance.

The report finds that a stronger, city-wide relocation policy is needed to help displaced tenants secure replacement housing. “With Austin’s tight rental housing market, the City has become a magnet for developers looking for redevelopment opportunities—there are going to be many more redevelopments like Shoreline in the near future,” said Heather Way, director of the Community Development Clinic.  “What I was struck by most is the impact that these developments have on children and schools,” said Molly Powers, a UT Law Student who worked on the report,  “At Shoreline alone, before it was torn down, more than 100 children at the complex attended the local elementary school, Sanchez Elementary—almost one-fifth of the student body,”  The report finds that a citywide relocation policy would also help tenants with children secure housing in the same school attendance zone, abating the negative impacts that relocation can have on neighborhood schools and children’s well being.

In preparing the report, law students in the Community Development Clinic interviewed city officials, developers, housing law experts, and tenants, to develop an understanding of what happened at Shoreline and what types of policy responses are needed in Austin. They also examined ordinances and best practices from other U.S. cities that are dealing with similar displacement issues.  The Community Development Clinic teaches law students transactional and problem solving skills to assist with sustainable economic development in low-income communities. Over the past six years, Clinic students have been involved in a series of policy projects related to improving the quality of life in low-income communities through initiatives such as vacant property reforms, affordable housing development, and clear title assistance.

The UT Opportunity Forum is an interdisciplinary collaboration of University of Texas at Austin faculty working to foster the expansion of equitable opportunities for low-income Texans. Through applied research, educational forums, and experiential learning opportunities, the Forum engages the University and community leaders in developing inclusive strategies to improve low-income Texans’ access to economic opportunities and to foster stronger and more equitable communities.

A PDF copy of the Community Development Clinic report, “Tenant Displacement in Austin: A Policy Report Analyzing the City of Austin’s Tenant Relocation Policy at Shoreline Apartments with Recommendations for a City-Wide Policy Approach,” is available online.

Contact: Heather K. Way, Director, Community Development Clinic, UT Law, 512-232-1210, hway@law.utexas.edu

Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, 512-471-7330 or kfortune@law.utexas.edu

Related Links:

Community Development Clinic

UT Opportunity Forum

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