Move out and move on. That’s the message Bettye Washington receives on a routine basis at her small shotgun house in East Austin. But no matter how many propositions she gets from buyers, she is staying put.
“I was insulted when I saw this message,” Washington said while holding a letter embossed with the words, “Move Out, Move On.” “So I called the company and told them, ‘I’m going to give you a hint. You need to change the logo on your flyer. This doesn’t sit well with these old folk in my neighborhood. And to give you any indication how old we are, I’m the youngest one in our neighborhood–and I’m 84.'”
While speaking to a packed auditorium at the latest Front Porch Gathering, she pointed out that residents work too hard to maintain the homes that have housed generations of family members – long before Austin became a music and film festival mecca.
“When they come, they tear these houses down–affordable family homes–and put at least three dwellings on one lot,” Washington added. “I suppose that maximizes their profits, but they don’t seem to worry about what’s next door.”
Washington was among several long-standing East Austin residents in attendance at the Front Porch Gathering event at Huston-Tillotson University on Feb. 28. As part of the series of community dialogues, hosted by the DDCE’s Community Engagement Center, the conversation explored a number of issues affecting residents as their neighborhoods morph into mixed-use condominiums and shopping centers.
To learn more about the effects of gentrification, two College of Liberal Arts researchers, Dr. Eric Tang and Dr. Bisola Falola, conducted door-to-door surveys with those who have remained in the area for 15 years or more.
Among their many findings, they discovered that within the span of ten years, the surveyed East Austin area experienced steep declines in minority populations (60 percent Black and 33 percent Hispanic) and a 442 percent increase in whites. Yet despite the rapid growth in infrastructure, the overall population dropped exponentially.
“Gentrification leads to higher property taxes, higher land values but less people,” Tang pointed out. “Gentrification doesn’t bring in more people; in fact, it displaces more people than it brings. And unfortunately those who are displaced are families with children.”
Yet despite these findings, the question remains. Why do some stay while others “move out and move on?”
“The main reason is that the home has been in the family for generations,” Tang said. “Also because they like Austin – and once they move out they can never return.”
After the attendees broke into workshop groups, the event concluded with a collective brainstorm session and closing thoughts. The goal is to mobilize participants to work together on sustainable solutions that will benefit the East Austin community. Visit the Community Engagement Center’s website for more information.