Journalism Professor Wins $150,000 Grant to Examine East Austin Gentrification

May 17, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte, associate professor in the School of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a $150,000 grant to explore the social consequences of displacement by gentrification in East Austin.

The grant is one of 119 awarded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation this month to address the devastating impact of racial inequities on communities across the country. The foundation's five-year, $75 million initiative — America Healing — aims to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and their families by promoting racial healing and eliminating barriers to opportunities.

"I became interested in displacement issues three years ago while researching local press coverage of Austin's development spurt," said de Uriarte, who worked on urban affairs and U.S. minority concerns as an editor and writer at the Los Angeles Times during the 1980s. "I was struck by the way long-time East Austin residents and young families who rented seemed to just disappear to be replaced by fancy new and rather alien structures. I wondered what effect these upheavals had on young people and elderly residents."

The funds will be administered by the Blackland Community Development Corporation (BCDC), an East Austin nonprofit organization that strives for social equality by preserving affordable housing for residents of the Blackland neighborhood. De Uriarte will direct the three-year investigation.

The grant money will enable de Uriarte to track and record the hardships faced by poor households that are being systematically pushed out of East Austin. She will interview displaced families to collect information concerning their personal experiences with special focus given to the elderly and children. Her inquiry also will address gentrification's impact on communities, tax structures and real estate practices. The data and personal stories de Uriarte collects will be incorporated into material to help others facing displacement.

De Uriarte began teaching journalism students how to cover East Austin more than 20 years ago. In 1989 she created Tejas, a student-produced publication known for its diverse voice, which won Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award for Outstanding Journalism in 1996. Today, students in her alternative media course produce the Web publication InCite, which reports on East Austin and other social justice matters.

Children of color are over-represented among the 29 million low-income children and families in this country, particularly among families living in concentrated poverty. According to data from the National Center for Children in Poverty, about 61 percent of African American, 62 percent of Latino, 57 percent of Native American, 58 percent of children with immigrant parents, 30 percent of Asian American children and 26 percent of white children live in low-income families.

During the first phase of America Healing, 119 organizations will receive grants totaling $14,613,709 specifically to support community-based organizations' healing efforts among racial and ethnic groups that address historic burdens, disparities and barriers to opportunity. Their efforts will focus within local communities to increase opportunities for children in education, health and economic areas. Grantees represent 29 states and the District of Columbia and all racial and ethnic population groups. To highlight the desire of communities to work together on racial healing, the foundation created a signature video capturing the spirit of the initiative. The video can be viewed at www.AmericaHealing.org.  

The America Healing initiative complements the racial equity approach in all of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant-making directed at supporting vulnerable children, their families and communities. The initiative will continue to focus on issues at the core of structural racism and will align with the foundation's program areas: education and learning, food, health and well-being, and family economic security.

For more information, contact: Erin Geisler, KUT Radio, Moody College of Communication, (512) 475-8071; Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte, Department of Journalism, College of Communication, 512-471-1979.