AUSTIN: Landmark Gentrification Case Heads to City Council

Photo: A Rendering of the Domain on Riverside Luxury Development, Next to Graffiti at the Developer’s Offices

By David Martinez

Today, the rezoning application for the “Domain on Riverside” project will go before City Council for the first time, marking a pivotal point in a yearlong bout between developer Presidium Group and residents of the East Riverside area. Community members have resisted the application’s progress through staff and commission review every step of the way in an effort to stop plans to eradicate over 1,400 low-cost units and displace 4,000 working people and students from East Riverside.

In a work session on Tuesday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar emphasized they would enforce the city’s process in response to the ongoing protests and disruptions from community members, or as the mayor referred to them, “those hoodz folks,” in reference to the revolutionary organization, Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio, which has aligned with struggle in the area.

“There were some disruptions at earlier hearings,” Adler said at the work session. “I just want to say I intend to have us follow our ordinary rules of decorum so we can appropriately work through our meeting.”

A breakdown of “Domain on Riverside” donations to local politicians. Click image for full size.

Disruptions began in April 2018 with the developer’s first so-called community meeting up until the most recent Planning Commission meeting on June 11. At a city-held community meeting at the Carver Museum and Library in July, seven arrests were made when city staff called the cops as soon as community members stood up with banners and spoke up against the city’s citizen engagement process, which is little more than bureaucratic theater.

Aside from disruptions, independent actions in support of the struggle have focused on the enemies of the people, such as the developers, Presidium Group. This morning, graffiti was seen on the doors of Presidium offices, with the message “Presidium Parasites Hands Off Riverside,” expressing the masses disdain for this wretched project that seeks to establish itself on the graves of their homes.

Graffiti on office doors reads “Presidium Parasites, Hands Off Riverside”

Austin city council’s emphasis on “process” exposes its role as management for the affairs of the capitalist class. They have a concrete relationship to developers through their acceptance of large amounts of campaign donations, primarily from Armbrust & Brown, the real estate lawyers representing the developers in their rezoning application. Attorney Michael Whellan has been the public face of the firm and developers, who infamously did not know what the minimum wage was when asked by a community member at last year’s April meeting.

Over 100,000 low-cost housing units have been lost to gentrification and rapid development in Austin between 2011 to 2017. City council works with developers to “upzone” existing areas so that developers can build denser, taller, and more profitable buildings. They claim to be providing more housing, but it is always more expensive and more out of reach for existing working-class communities, disrupting their lives and forcing them to live further outside the city.

Liberal city councils such as Austin try to pacify the masses by appearing to create policies make up for this displacement, but affordable housing is just a bureaucratic buzzword that is always secured in token amounts, and rarely affordable to the deepest sections of the masses. As they deliberate the displacement of thousands of people in the Riverside rezoning cases, today’s meeting will also include a convening of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, which oversees the distribution of funds for affordable housing projects. They will funnel millions of dollars to NGOs which construct fractions of the amount of low-cost housing that will be lost if the Domain on Riverside goes forward.

In the Domain on Riverside project, developers are theoretically offering between 400-600 affordable units, with no guarantee of even that and at rates that are still unknown. Currently, in the working-class housing facing destruction, there are 1,400 units at costs well below the Austin average, allowing many families, workers, and a large number students attending the many post-high school institutions across the city some of the only low-cost housing central to the city. In addition, organizers told Incendiary that the apartments are indispensable options for Asylum seekers from African countries, such as Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and more.

In recent weeks, the walls of the apartments and buildings in the area have become canvasses for resistance to the project. Slogans such as “No Domain On Riverside’ and ‘Defend Riverside’ have appeared across the area. Posters telling tenants not to trust the developers’ lies are pasted onto walls. On Wednesday, unknown tenants put up large character posters directly onto the doors of the Quad East management offices with their grievances, highlighting how landlords will forgo basic maintenance to clear out tenants before attempting to flip the apartments into luxury housing.

The bourgeois politicians who see the rage of the community as nothing more than disruptions to their process should continue to be confronted. Defend Our Hoodz told Incendiary that they are planning to be at City Hall tonight to ensure that the developers and their politician lackeys can’t hide from the revolutionary anger of the masses.