A respected University of Texas study has found that Austin is the only high-growth city that is losing African Americans, both in terms of numbers and percentage of the total population. Do you consider this a problem? If so, what would you do to reverse or stabilize the decline?

Kathie Tovo

City Council, District 9

Yes. This is a serious problem and a moral imperative. I believe it reflects the city’s failure to both listen to our African American residents and to work together to address the issues they raise.

One of the most critical steps we can take to move forward is actively and purposefully fostering an environment that invites more voices of color into decision-making roles at the city – and that works to keep them here. Ultimately, our policies and programs can only be truly successful in addressing our residents’ needs if they are designed and implemented with an eye toward the lived experiences of the many diverse residents who these programs will serve.

As a Council Member, I have sought to foster an inviting and protective environment and improve how our programs serve our diverse communities in a number of ways, including by sponsoring or co-sponsoring initiatives to:

  • Direct the City Manager to work with the Equity Office to research best practices for hiring executive-level positions in a way that reflects Austin’s diversity.
  • Create an Equity Assessment Tool for city staff to use to evaluate how city policies and programs impact socio-economic and race-based inequities.
  • Update the city’s non-discrimination policies.
  • Establish a third-party appeals process for discrimination, retaliation, and harassment cases.
  • Update the city’s benchmark data on disparities in our community, including a revised assessment of our African American Quality of Life scorecard.

I also believe it is important that we recognize that the inequities of past Council decisions continue to impact our communities today. For instance, past Council policy to locate industrial uses and underinvest in African American communities, followed later by “urban renewal” projects and other policies that encouraged redevelopment by expanding land use entitlements, have contributed to the ongoing gentrification and displacement crises we are now facing in many historically African American neighborhoods.

I have fought to recognize and address these issues by:

  • Co-sponsoring the effort to successfully repeal a policy that incentivized redevelopment in parts of East Austin.
  • Leading resolution to explore enactment of a “right to return” policy for long-term residents displaced or at risk of displacement.
  • Leading resolution to create a “strike fund” to purchase naturally occurring affordable housing to ensure it remains affordable for residents.
  • Serving as Council representative on Austin’s Anti-Displacement Team as part of the PolicyLink grant.
  • Leading on a number of affordable housing initiatives, such as expanding the amount of money transferred to the Housing Trust Fund and identifying underutilized city property that can be developed for affordable housing, among others.

The continued loss of our African American communities is a major problem facing Austin – and I will continue working with community leaders to address it by fostering a more inclusive environment at the city and recognizing the inequities in many of the city’s decisions.