Austin natives pushed out of their communities, Defenders investigate gentrification problem
Author: Terri Gruca
Published: 6:20 PM CST February 27, 2018
Updated: 6:20 PM CST February 27, 2018
DEFENDERS 4 Articles

Drive along most streets in East Austin, you’ll see homes that defined Austin next to homes that are redefining it.

Somewhere in the middle you find families like the Garza's.

“It's my parents' house,” said Tomas Garza.

Garza grew up in the East Austin home that he and his father built by hand after World War II -- a tiny 649-square-foot bungalow.


Austin natives pushed out of their communities, Defenders investigate gentrification problem

Chapter 1

History takes its toll

“It's like a historical place. All the little kids grew up here, including my daughter. I have four other kids that grew up here too,” Garza said. “I kept it up as well as I could, but I wasn't doing that good of a job.”

Time takes its toll. Garza's daughter spent four years trying to convince her dad they needed help, worried he might lose his home.

“This home was about to fall, fall on him” Angela Benevidas Garza, Tomas’ daughter, said. “Either we were going to have to sell it or we had to do something about it. It was so not healthy for him and his health was going down because of it.”

Chapter 2

New development comes in as property taxes rise

It's an all too familiar scene in East Austin. New development is booming in the area.

Five new major projects -- such as the Plaza Saltillo project -- are in the works. The project will combine work, retail and living spaces. These new developments bring business and increased wages, but also raise property taxes -- pushing families to the limit or pushing them out.

This map shows all the delinquent property taxes in Travis County. The orange, yellow and red show the areas facing the most trouble.

Travis County will freeze the penalties once you agree to a payment plan on any delinquent taxes. Learn more here.

The Garza's said many of their friends have been forced to sell.

“A lot of my friends have sold out, actually they don't sell out, they are forced out because they don't keep up with their taxes,” Tomas said.

Chapter 3

Audit finds gentrification solutions, but few implemented

The city has plenty of ideas to deal with this problem.

Among them, making sure developers deliver the number of affordable housing units promised and helping minorities who want to return to East Austin.

However, a recent audit finds that out of the 541 recommendations, only 56 have been implemented.

VIDEO: Austin setting up task force to deal with gentrification issues.

“It's very frustrating,” said Austin City Councilman Pio Renteria.

Renteria has lived in Austin his entire life.

“There was a lot of pushback from residents that didn't want density, but didn't see it coming, that one of these days your land value is going to be so expensive that you are not going to be able to afford to stay there,” Renteria said.

And there's another problem.

The city lacks a comprehensive, centralized tool or webpage for residents to use to find programs that could help them with affordability issues.

“We didn't know all these programs existed,” said Angela.

Chapter 4

Programs help Garza's stay home

The Garza family considers themselves lucky.

They found the neighborhood housing and community development program, which, for the last five years, has partnered with non-profit groups to help families stay in East Austin.

PHOTOS: The Garza's

“We come into some homes that will get by with minor repairs, some that are in such severe distress that all the systems are failing and we have to offer them a different program that we have where we have to tear the home down and build them a new one on site,” said Coby Ramirez, construction manager with the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development program.

The organization said it helped 500 families last year. An audit showed the city can't give "an accurate count of the number of individuals or households assisted through (many of the affordable housing) programs."

“It's from $5,000 of service to $130,000 worth of service,” Ramirez said.

The important work hits home when you see what it means to those allowed to stay in theirs.

PHOTOS: Before, during, and after gentrification

For these families, it's more than a home they risk losing, it's the sense of community.

“It was a lot of work. A lot of people said it couldn't be done and my dad is so important to me,” said a tearful Angela. “They deserve not to be gentrified, not to be disrespected. They deserve to be respected.”

For all the good new development can bring, it can also strip an area of its identity. It's a delicate balance -- finding ways to give families with so much history hope and allowing them to stay home.