Years ago, I attended a real estate seminar at the now defunct Shore Bank. One of the comments that forever has resonated with me was when it was mentioned that Austin had very little vacant land. And think about it, unlike East and West Garfield Park as well as North Lawndale, Austin doesn’t have blocks of vacant land.
But if you open your eyes and begin to pay attention, that scenario is beginning to change with the sudden influx of “Xs” on a large number of buildings. I was travelling down Thomas Street from Lavergne toward Laramie and the “Xs” on the buildings are troubling. First, because housing stock is limited, so those buildings which are brick can be saved and rehabbed. Even more troubling is something most of your elected officials won’t admit. Every time a building is demolished, the now vacant land is taxed at a lesser amount than land with a building on it.
Now, here’s something else that you aren’t supposed to think about: The city’s budget is based on taxes it got previously and/or estimated increases in taxes. So, when large buildings that once sent thousands of dollars in real estate taxes downtown now become a vacant lot, and the tax bill is now much less, guess who will foot the bill for the missing difference in money? Hold up a mirror because it will be you and me as long as we continue to live here. Plus, every time a large apartment building is demolished, that is ten or more families that will not be coming back. And as the racial and economic demographic changes, many of those now comfortable elected officials will soon have the word “former” added to their title.
Don’t believe me? Just look at all the people who once lived in public housing and how they all have just “disappeared.” They are so far gone that their so-called “right of return” has CHA placing ads in newspapers reminding them that if they don’t file by a certain date, they will lose their opportunity. There used to be a radio program called CHAT – Chicago Housing Authority Talk. That show is now off the air because the plan to make sure those thousands of residents don’t ever make it back is fully realized. Now, the city is focusing that same sort of removal here in Austin, which has always been known for its population. But if you remove the housing stock, you remove the people.
This city and this current government is quite content to watch as black neighborhoods fall into the cracks. I would love to compare the amount of real estate tax dollars that black folks send to city hall and compare it to what we don’t get in return. Black folks are no longer the “flavor of the month.” We’ve been replaced by Hispanics.
It is time for all of us to speak up and speak out about the planned destruction within the Austin community. Our streets are filled with young people who can learn a trade by rehabbing those buildings back into livable, sustainable housing. And for all you folks who don’t care because you’ve moved on and have left behind those overpriced Section 8 apartments, which is helping you to live that suburban lifestyle — a reminder — Section 8 won’t pay if there are vacant lots on the block. Call it a coincidence or call it a conspiracy, but everyone needs to get involved and call it something.