Austin has experienced rapid growth yet many underserved Austinites have found themselves forced to move when they don't want to, or experiencing homelessness. The City didn't have an anti-displacement strategy. We created a first set of anti displacement insights, accelerated community co-created anti displacement strategies, developed an interactive data tool to stimulate driven approaches, and co-created an equity tool to mitigate displacement risk heightened by its own transit investments.
In 2019 after nearly 20 years of unmitigated displacement and gentrification pressure, Austin found itself as the only City in the U.S. of its size with a decreasing black population, the most economically segregated city in the U.S., and with a critical mass of people experiencing homelessness. The City had long standing housing and planning activities, many informed by the redevelopment playbooks of the past, and a complex relationship with its settler colonial history. This meant that past and ongoing master planning approaches, policies and practices had directly created the inequities that made residents vulnerable to displacement. However, the City did not have an anti-displacement strategy or team.
The City's Office of Innovation created a demonstration team to provide a template for a multidisciplinary team that could be dedicated to anti displacement efforts within the City structure. This team was meant to synthesize insights on the origin, shape, nature and magnitude of displacement risk in Austin, and to begin to put research-informed, co-created strategies into action.
The team synthesized insights on displacement at a local level, where most available insights had not been Austin specific, and published a first generation decision support tool, the Neighborhood Stabilization Strategy Tool, available for public use. The tool was the first of its kind for the City, synthesizing more than 100 displacement related factors and allowing for direct user interaction with data sets. It helped users understand how combinations of factors produced displacement vulnerability at a neighborhood level, & helped users ID potential foci for interventions.
The team combined this tool with qualitative data, and curated a community focused co-creation accelerator that surfaced, tested and implemented, community centered anti-displacement strategies. Strategies ranged from micro area resident-led planning at the block and neighborhood level, to a universal basic income program, to an open data tool that would allow community organizers & lawyers to access resident files to fight evictions, and an intervention that provided advocacy & access to case management to women facing evictions directly at Justice of the Peace Courts. All were new for the City. The bet was placed on these strategies with small dollar amounts ranging from $10K to $40K each. Community organizations put their co-created strategies into motion and learned for refinement. Collectively they served hundreds of residents over the course of a 6 month period before COVID-19 swept the world. As COVID-19 hit Austin with another layer of displacement pressure, having proved their value and viability in a short time span, many of the surfaced strategies became cornerstones of the City's response & received millions of dollars of infusions, amplifying their impact to thousands of Austinites. However a looming displacement risk amplifier was rising in the wings.
The City Council began to take concrete steps to remedy transit woes with a $7.1B ballot measure on transit infrastructure. However the team had noted a pattern of concern from community, staff & in published research that transit public investments could increase land values of previously underinvested in/undervalued land and housing putting fuel on cycles of speculation. The team conducted a second wave of research on transit investments and displacement, and educated both Council members and the community about its findings- potential cost of living increases related to the investment, a first estimate of the magnitude of those who would become at risk for displacement along the planned transit corridors. It also provided a body of solutions and investments tried by other municipalities for this type of scenario in the past. The team also educated Council Members and staff on tools such as the NSST, and The Alliance's racial equity planning tools, charting the possibility for the use and adaptation of these tools to help shape a locally co-created racial equity tool that could guide potential investment for anti-displacement strategies should they come to fruition.
Hearing the research, the Council placed a $300M investment for anti-displacement strategies up for vote with the $7.1B ballot measure. The voters of Austin approved the combined investment. To date, no other City in the U.S. has invested at this level in anti displacement strategies attached to a public transit project. The team partnered with other staff to create and hold space for 30 racial equity catalysts (RECs) to create a racial equity tool for anti-displacement to guide the investment of the $300M. The RECs were selected using the team's past research on markers for displacement risk and contributed a combined 950 hours of lived experience knowledge & co-creation. This approach has garnered replication within our system; the tool has now strategically informed the release of the first $20M of the $300M.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The chief innovation in this project was our approach to the work. We combined traditional innovation approaches, open government approaches, and community organizing approaches to achieve activation of anti displacement efforts within our system. That involved combining insights making, accelerators, small stakes investments, prototyping and testing with, open data, participatory budgeting principles, and relational power building and the organizing cycle: Assessment-Research-Action-Reflection.
This produced the following innovations for Austin:
- City staff team dedicated to and operating from an anti displacement lens
-Decision support tool to visualize Austin specific data on displacement risks
-Anti displacement specific ballot measure for Austin, & nationally record setting dollar amount attached to a transit investment
-Community co-created strategies used for anti displacement and COVID response
-Racial equity tool to guide anti displacement.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Our innovation effort involved multiple prongs, today each are at different stages:
-Anti displacement team- the multi disciplinary anti displacement team model has been adopted for implementation by the Housing & Planning Department of Austin.
-The NSST is growing into a Neighborhood Prosperity decision support tool, that will help users consider data sets in 5 areas of prosperity for Austinites so that the tool can be used for decision support on a variety of municipal government topics, it will also be forward looking employing trend and forecasting methods.
-Some of the Co-created Anti Displacement Strategies have concluded their implementation & are ripe for post implementation evaluation, others are being converted into permanent programs within our system.
-The Racial equity tool & $300M fund for anti displacement strategies are at a first implementation stage.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Our chief collaborator for this effort was the City of Austin's Housing & Community Development (now the Housing & Planning Department) who was the challenge owner for displacement. They provided their knowledge base for problem framing, provided feedback loops throughout the process, and largely, received innovations for next phases of implementation.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Our chief beneficiaries were people with lived experience of displacement, or risk of displacement. Each innovation held them at the center for receiving direct services and programs, and or they were direct participants in co-creation. Because innovation in our effort was multilevel- staff, elected officials, and community organizations were also beneficiaries and users. Our innovations presented new ways of practice, new tools and knowledge they could use in their practice.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
-A multidisciplinary anti-displacement team has been integrated into the Housing & Planning department structure. The team has already administered millions of dollars of anti-displacement assistance to Austinites, and is providing an ongoing advisory role on various City decisions that touch displacement. However, an anti displacement lens has not been fully adopted in our Housing & Planning department or by our City, we continue to perpetuate practices and policies that don't center the goal of not displacing people.
-Anti displacement specific ballot measure for Austin, & nationally record setting dollar amount attached to a transit investment - the first $20M of the fund have just been awarded so results are not yet available.
Challenges and Failures
-While race based harms is at the heart of our inequities, the position of other levels of government puts the City at legal risk when we try to lead with race in our work. This is why the racial equity tool wasn't allowed to fully direct the focus of the $300M & not applied at all to the $7.1B portion. The NSST's evolution into the Neighborhood Prosperity Tool is a potential path to help us bring precision to our work when we can't use race as a determining factor.
-Community co-created strategies used during COVID haven't been allowed to be fully evaluated-this is an ongoing open government problem due to current culture of perceived risk of audit and punishment v. a culture of innovation testing and learning in our system.
- The City's strategic direction plan previously included a placeholder for tracking displacement, leadership has omitted this in their updated plan; they have not been willing to adopt a methodology for measuring displacement (transparency problem).
Conditions for Success
The City must be willing to commit to leading with antiracism and open government principles, even if it means challenging the question in the courts when they face legal pressure from other parts of government. Further, like many cities our City revenue model is a land based taxation system, this means that we face a disincentive to balance the effects of growth even at the cost of harm to vulnerable populations (like displacement). We would have to find alternative city revenue models in order to fix this imbalance.
Many aspects of our effort can be replicated, particularly our innovative "method" of practice combining innovation- open government- community organizing. We are working on making our data tools open for use and replication by making back end codes accessible to others, this is forthcoming, and for every other part of our innovations we have documentation such as the racial equity catalysts program implementation manual that helps people replicate how we worked with residents for the co-creation of the racial equity tool- many City departments are already looking ot this manual and we have now been tasked to create City -wide resident compensation guidelines to further clarify these practices across the City. Our accelerator (along with some of our other accelerator work in our office) has been a base template for a current accelerators in our Homelessness Strategy Office.
_We must think nonlinearly, in an iterative and adaptive way to contend with the quicksand nature of our system and continuously emergent challenges. If we followed a/the linear path we set out in our first innovation activation plan, it could have quickly become irrelevant, no matter how much work we completed.
-We must be willing to shape change- we won't always be handed the opportunity or window to insert innovative interventions, part of the innovation is the practice of shaping the opportunity for change, shaping change.
-When we do our work in a relational, networked and decentralized way we build power to shape change.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
16 November 2022