Gentrification and Gender: How Austin’s Changing Neighborhoods Affect Women and Children

Austin Community Foundation and United Way for Greater Austin co-hosted a panel on May 12th, “Gentrification & Gender: How Austin’s Changing Neighborhoods Affect Women and Children.” The panel was put on for both organizations’ women’s groups, UWATX’s Women’s Leadership Council and ACF’s Women’s Fund of Central Texas.

Panel speakers were Dr. Eric Tang and Dr. Victor Sáenz of the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Tang is an assistant professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at UT. His research revealed that Austin was the only major growing city in the United States to experience an absolute numerical decline in African Americans. Dr. Tang is currently working on a book, East Avenue: African Americans in Austin’s Terrain of Inequality.

Dr. Sáenz is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on the educational success of boys and young men of color. Dr. Sáenz has developed a successful mentoring program for Latino boys in Austin ISD schools and created a statewide consortium to share best practices. He sees the educational success of boys as key to creating healthy families and communities.

The panel started with a video from an Austin-American Statesman project on economic mobility in Austin. The video does a great job of describing how the history of segregation in Austin has led us to the current state of East Austin today.

Dr. Tang elaborated on some troubling statistics from the most recent censuses in Austin. Austin is the only major city in the country that’s seeing major population growth while its black population is declining. From 2000 to 2010, Austin grew at a rate of 20.4% while its black population declined by 5.4%.

Within East Austin specifically, the African American declined 60%, the Latino population declined 33% and the white population increased 442% since 1999. Dr. Tang interviewed African Americans who left Austin and found their main reasons for moving to be affordability issues, increased property taxes, problems with racism and to find better opportunities and schools for their kids and themselves.

Gentrification, segregation and lack of economic mobility affect everyone living in Austin. The lack of economic mobility doesn’t just affect one area but threatens the prosperity of our entire county, and affects low-, middle- and high-income children’s ability to succeed as adults. Check out one of our past blogs on upward mobility in Austin to learn more.

Dr. Sáenz spoke about the “crisis” affecting boys of all races in Texas. There are exponentially more boys of color in special education and school discipline pipelines. There are also fewer male teachers than females, which may attribute to a lack of positive male role models for young men. Additionally, Austin’s schools serving primarily low-income students, such as those in UWATX’s Middle School Matters program, are majority black and Latino students and these schools often have high leadership turnover.

Dr. Sáenz stated that only 9 out of 100 Latino boys earn a higher ed degree, and only 8 out of 100 black boys earn a higher ed degree. To combat this, he started a research-based mentoring program that is catching national attention, Project MALES.

When studying economic factors and poverty, it is important to look at entire families and systems rather than individual situations.

According to an Austin Community Foundation report, the majority of adults living in poverty are women. In fact, one in four female-headed households are below poverty level. You can clearly see how this affects the entire family–one in four kids don’t have enough to eat and rely on public assistance to meet their basic needs, which in turn affects their ability to concentrate in school or have opportunities their more affluent peers have. Even more distressing, one in four homeless Austinites are children.

You can see how segregation, gentrification and gender are all intertwined. One panel attendee asked, “what can we do as citizens, mothers, sisters and voters in Austin to fix this?”

One of the best ways is to educate and discuss these issues with others, even when the conversation is uncomfortable–“keep the tension.” Dr. Tang stated that we can’t take back what has already been done, but there is still time to be forward-thinking and innovative to create a better Austin for all. He mentioned that as a city we need to rethink housing in general to make it affordable once again (land trusts are one idea), we need to invest and grow workforce sectors that will sustain our growing city, and we need to “start small and specific.”

Finally, take the time to give back in anyway you can. United Way for Greater Austin is constantly stating that “everyone can be a philanthropist,” because it will take each of us giving the time, money and talent we can to keep our city flourishing.

Thank you to Austin Community Foundation’s Women’s Fund for bringing this informative event to us to co-host!

Want to get involved in advocating for a better Austin for ALL? Learn more about joining our Women’s Leadership Council.