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The University of Texas at Austin

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

Economic Viability of East Austin Enhanced, Panel Says

Between 1999-2005, Price of Land Increased by 68 Percent in Area

The Daily Texan, March 22, 2007

Demographic, housing and economic changes over the last two decades in East Austin have increased both challenges and opportunities in the historically disadvantaged region, political and community leaders said to more than 80 attendees at UT's Thompson Conference Center Wednesday evening.

Frank Ringer expresses his concerns about the changes happening in East Austin to guest panelists Wednesday afternoon. The forum, "Defining Community Change in East Austin," was part of the Focus East Insight Forum Series.
Photo Credit: Garrett Traya, The Daily Texan
Frank Ringer expresses his concerns about the changes happening in East Austin to guest panelists Wednesday afternoon. The forum, "Defining Community Change in East Austin," was part of the Focus East Insight Forum Series.

The forum, "Defining Community Change in East Austin," was organized by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and PeopleFund, an organization promoting economic vitality for low-income people and communities. Four political and community leaders gathered for a panel discussion after a research presentation about business and economic development in East Austin conducted by public affairs graduate students.

"With a younger demography, a substantial increase in property values and a growing industry requiring highly skilled workers, the perceptions of East Austin began to change," said Robert Wilson, co-director of the project and associate dean for the LBJ school.

According to the research, more higher-income and younger individuals moved to East Austin from 1990 to 2000, the black population shrunk by 8 percent, and the growth of the Hispanic population was slower in comparison with other areas in Austin.

The new demand for space in East Austin increased the price of land by 68 percent between 1999 to 2005 and property taxes rose at the same time, said Patricia Myers, one of three presenters on the project and public affairs graduate student.

"There is also evidence to show changes of economic structure. Diverse types of businesses requiring higher density of land use and highly skilled workers create more employment opportunities in East Austin," Myers said.

Sectors that reported growth in 2004 include professional, scientific, technical and health-care services. At the same time, traditional sectors, such as manufacturing, are moving out of the region, according to the research.

Wilson said the community in East Austin contributed the most to these changes. They encouraged the Austin City Council to develop a number of public policies improving infrastructures and promoting business development, he said.

Mark Rogers, program director of Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, said he thought the progress in East Austin was notable, but it put more stress on East Austin leaders to keep up the economic growth and community development.

City Manager Toby Futrell focused more on the negative aspects of the research results. She said she was troubled by the large number of tax-delinquent properties and foreclosures in East Austin. She added that the city would further discuss affordable housing policy in the region.

Jessica Flores, co-owner of Paint Care & Body Inc., a vehicle repair shop in East Austin, said demographic shifting is the change that most caught her attention.

"Even with the growth of more highly educated residents in the region, we still find difficult to attract highly skilled employees," Flores said. "We have to offer better benefits to overcome the bad reputation of East Austin."

Lydia Ortiz, outreach and research manager for PeopleFund, said the forum is the first program of the Focus East Insight Forum Series, which offers informational training on East Austin-related political and economic issues for small business owners.

"The event offers an opportunity for local business owners, decision makers and community service providers to update information," Ortiz said. "The research results and the discussion involving a variety of perspectives are critical to the future of East Austin."

Copyright 2007 The Daily Texan