By Annie Flom
Texas in 2021 is a ball of contradictions. Rapid population growth, gentrification and demographyIc changes are reshaping the state at a dizzying rate. According to the 2020 Census, Texas has experienced the strongest population growth of any state since 2010. Texans of color accounted for 95% of that growth, with the state’s Hispanic population now almost as large as the non-white population. Hispanic state. Gentrification has also exploded. The median home values ââin Texas have increased by more than 50% since 2010 – and in some neighborhoods like East Austin, median home values ââhave increased. double in the last decade. Despite rising rents, property taxes and the cost of living, the minimum wage has stagnated at $ 7.25 an hour, pushing many of the poorest Texans out of their communities. Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers are pushing for regressive and almost draconian policies – voter suppression bills, banning homeless settlements statewide and, more recently, severe restrictions on abortion – driving the wedge between the Texas of the past and the Texas of the future.
Amid this push and pull, progressive leaders seek to tackle some of the state’s most intractable problems with a simple solution: guaranteed income. Lone Star State now has three major cities – Houston, San Antonio and now Austin – whose mayors have joined the National Coalition of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. But Austin goes even further.
In June, Austin City Council passed Resolution â73, affirming the city’s commitment to explore how a guaranteed income could enhance the economic security of Austin residents. The resolution was passed unanimously and cited several factors that informed the decision, including current burning issues like rising house prices and economic shocks from COVID-19 and the devastating winter storm of 2021. But they also encompassed the pre-existing inequalities, systemic racism, and economic segregation that plagued the city long before our present times. In his recent State of the City 2021 address, Austin Mayor Steve Adler acknowledged the role of guaranteed income in bridging the racial wealth gap:
âLed by activists and organizers from black and brown communities, our city has taken significant first steps to address generational racial wealth disparities through restitution and atonement, preservation of culture, black history and economic opportunities, and planning for a black embassy just to the east. of IH-35. Austin is one of the first cities in the country to make a substantial investment in developing a guaranteed income tool as a more effective and efficient way to fight poverty. – Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin
Most recently, the city allocated $ 1.13 million to study how a guaranteed income program could be implemented in Austin. The funding will be used to contribute and expand an existing local pilot project in collaboration with philanthropic partners. The program will focus on distributing $ 1,000 per month to 100 low-income households in Austin, with more details on the program expected to be released in October of this year. According to the budget amendment, city staff would “work with the pilot project organizers and develop a replicable program design that integrates guaranteed income with other public support services and a participant selection process that puts the emphasis on focus on priority areas for the city such as homelessness, displacement, and equity.
Anti-displacement is a major motivator in Austin’s push for a guaranteed income. According to a recent Zillow Affordability Analysis, Austin is on track to become the least affordable city outside of California by the end of the year, even overtaking expensive metropolitan areas like Miami and New York. Not surprisingly, low-income communities, immigrants and communities of color are most at risk of being displaced by the influx of new wealth into the city. âWe are a growing city, we are a prosperous city, we are also one of the most segregated cities in our country and this is rooted in our city’s racist past. So here we are, decades later, facing institutional neglect, âsaid City Councilor Vanessa Fuentes, Austin City Council Member for District 2 for Southeast and parts of South Austin. âSo for someone like me, who represents a predominantly Latino community (almost 70%) and one of the poorest communities in Austin, a program like Guaranteed Income would help us fight displacement. With the costs rising – rental costs, but also homeownership with rising property taxes – being able to have a set amount each month would help people stay in their homes and be able to continue calling Austin theirs. House.
Austin is no stranger to direct money programs. When the pandemic struck, the city council quickly mobilized and set up two cash assistance programs: the RISE fund (Relief in a State of Emergency) and the RENT fund (Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants) . Both programs had basic eligibility requirements, such as being a low-income Austin-Travis County resident and having been financially affected by the pandemic. The allocation of these funds presented a new challenge. âThere was a learning curve to even having the ability to put this infrastructure in place,â Fuentes said. âWhat we’ve learned is that we function best when we work with organizations that are trusted messengers in their communities. So we worked with different non-profit organizations to set up this type of application process. These were well-known organizations [and] already had forays into the community. And so, when we had to mobilize quickly to provide help, we worked with them in this type of partnershipâ¦ so that the money was distributed to the people who needed it most.
Fuentes believes that the implementation of the RISE and RENT programs will help Austin residents understand the need for a guaranteed income program in their city and the positive effects it would have on their families. Those who have the most reason to be suspicious of government – those who have experienced systemic racism or fear deportation because of their immigration status – may be more receptive to the idea if they have already received direct cash assistance from the city of Austin. âThe resolution gives us that framework by showing our community, who may have doubts or not know exactly what this type of [guaranteed income] program could do for our community, âFuentes said. âHe presents this assessment of ‘We’ve done this before, during the pandemic, but even before that. And we have the infrastructure, and here’s the analysis, here’s how we can do it.
However, the rise of guaranteed income in Texas is certainly not without opposition. “[Guaranteed income] is something that I believe we should have nationally. But you know, we’re in Texas, so things work a little different hereâ¦ We’re the capital of a conservative state dominated by Republican lawmakers. And so we have to be very careful where we do things, and what we do, because we run the risk of being pre-empted by the state legislature, âFuentes said. A prime example of this decline in cash assistance is the decision of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to withdraw from all federal unemployment assistance programs after June 26 – even as the state is plunged into chaos and companies scramble to adapt as Delta variant COVID cases soar.
But perhaps the growing popularity and urgent need for direct money programs in the wake of the pandemic has eased some resistance against them. The recent expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which offers families up to $ 300 per month per child, is one such program that normalizes the idea of ââreceiving regular cash assistance for the government for millions of Americans. âI think the child tax credit is huge for families living in rural Texas because they’re going to have to ask, ‘Why am I getting this?’ I think that will go a long way in creating some really good forays into the more conservative parts of Texas, âFuentes said. âEven for myself, I called my sister, who doesn’t vote like I vote. And I said, ‘Hey, what do you think about this income that is going to come back to your family?’ Almost immediately, the question of funding arose. âShe was a little suspicious. She said to me, ‘How are we going to pay for this?’ I said, âAre you wondering how we pay for border security? “But that’s just that dialogue,” Fuentes said. “And I think anytime you talk to someone from another party you definitely want to engage, all it takes is having a conversation to understand where they’re coming from and to share where you’re from.”
It is still unclear whether these programs will bridge the gap in Texas politics. What is Certainly some form of intervention is needed to support and empower the most marginalized in the state. It’s never been clearer how much money matters: Last week, the Texas legislature passed the country’s toughest abortion restrictions, limiting access to essential health care that will now be out of reach low-income women who cannot afford to travel out of state. The confluence of forces gripping Texas at this time – gentrification, displacement, and political, economic, and demographic change – demands a deep systemic calculation. And thanks to progressive lawmakers in cities across the state, Guaranteed Income is about to meet the moment.