Panelists discuss housing equity during a symposium held Oct. 16 at the Kehrein Center for the Arts in Austin. Below, musical artist Samantha Jordan and consultant Amber S. Hendley presenting at the event. | AustinTalks

What is the key to building Black wealth in Austin?

The hybrid event, held this Oct. 16 at the Kehrein Center for the Arts, sought to answer that question. It opened with soulful sounds from Avery R. Young and de Deacon Board who sang of being “one ‘e’ from free,” — a nod to the late Fred Hampton, who advocated for the equal treatment of Black Chicago residents in housing.

“This is a housing symposium — why would we have music, why would we have arts, why do we tie these things together?” said Reesheda Graham Washington, who moderated the three-hour event.

“Avery is from this community, he had to live somewhere. We have to care about housing because we care about people. And we have to care what people care about, and people care about the arts. Music is a critical engine to the work of social justice,” she said.

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Researcher and activist Amber S. Hendley gave an exposition of the history of predatory lending and contract selling that has led to disparities in housing in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods including Austin.

“The history tells us how we get to the present,” Hendley said. “With what was taken just from contract selling alone: 315,000 retirement accounts could have been funded, 167 childcare opportunities could have been provided, 113,000 students secondary education could have been funded, 130,150 mortgages could have been paid off, and 9085 new businesses could have been started in the Black community.”

Hendley later returned to the mic to pay tribute to Jack Macnamara, for whom the symposium was dedicated. Macnamara was a lead organizer for the Contract Buyers League, a group of Black home buyers who joined together in 1968 to fight exploitive real estate contract sales.

A diverse group of community leaders also spoke on a panel about the current housing market in Austin and what it will take for change.

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Hip hop artist Samantha Jordan (aka Fury) described the change she experienced as a renter with the same apartment company after she moved from a property in Stone Park Village to one in Austin.

“I saw the level of service completely disappear,” she said.

“He [the property manager] was there every day at the Stone Park location. If there were any issues, I got service, it was awesome,” Jordan said. “I moved to Austin almost five years ago, and I noticed a total change. When he came it was only to put his hand in a slot to pick up rental checks. The only time you would see them doing improvements was when a new tenet was coming in.”

Jordan noted that 60% of Austin residents are renters.

“We’re making people rich out here. That has to stop because it weighs on you as a human being knowing that you’re just trying to survive, but they’re not looking out for you. The least you could do is get stuff updated,” Jordan said. “We know the situation, but it doesn’t have to be this bad.”

Others spoke passionately about the desire to see people educated about the process of homeownership and how to maintain property.

“There are a lot of groups putting people in homes without teaching people about sustaining a home,” said Athena Williams, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.

“I would like to see our communities more educated about the process, to know they have opportunities and there’s access for them. If we could all become one around certain topics, then we could be a force to be reckoned with.”

Hendley said, “I want us to think about the fact that you learn best while doing. We can educate and at the same time change systems. Let education be something that we’re actively doing while also making change.”