So many of us feel lucky to live in this beautiful city that continues to grow in the midst of an economic boom. Still, it is well-known that not everyone in Austin has been positively impacted by this growth, low-income minority groups being the most affected.
Studies show that Central Texas’ level of income segregation ranks among the highest in the country. Likewise, segregation and gentrification have left their mark in our city through the decades as it’s revealed in racial distribution maps in our region.
According to a recent study by research and advocacy nonprofit PolicyLink, if members of minority groups received equal employment and wage distributions as Anglo citizens in 2012, the Austin economy would have seen a 22 percent increase equivalent to $21.7 billion.
Our city’s racial divides continue to bring higher poverty rates, isolated neighborhoods and lower education and employment levels to African-American and Hispanic populations. Affordable housing is one of the most prominent problems that is directly associated to race and socioeconomic-based inequities throughout the city.
The good news is Austin City Council is listening.
During his second State of the City address earlier this year in February, Mayor Steve Adler talked about several measures that will bring prosperity and opportunities to everyone in our city. One important topic in Adler’s agenda is the creation of a new Equity Office, a plan that has been in place since summer of 2015.
“For too long, this city has not served everyone who lives here or taken into account the long-term effects of what we do,” Mayor Adler said. “Having an Office of Equity will help us change this by making equity a part of everything we are doing.”
Austin is one of a group of cities looking at city policy through an equity lens. Dante James, currently director of Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights and interim director of the City of Oakland’s Department of Race and Equity, explains the concept of achieving equity: “Equity is realized when one’s identity cannot predict the outcome. In this city, this state and this country, it is clear that one’s identity, certainly one’s race, can absolutely predict the outcome. Looking at the most impactful social indicators of success; it is not class, it is not gender, which are most decisive. It is race that is the ultimate predictor of the most detrimental outcomes in society.”
Mayor Adler has the City of Austin headed in the right direction with this significant step towards increasing opportunities for all to achieve their full potential. Although we cannot expect immediate results from this new measure, it can be the key to a brighter future for generations to come.
Having held the first town hall meetings last month, the City will continue to provide the Austin community with opportunities to share ideas and input on what’s envisioned for the new Equity Office in the coming months. For information on future town hall meetings, visit austintexas.gov (input can also be provided via email at EquityOffice@austintexas.gov).
As we celebrate Juneteenth, World Refugee Day, Ramadam, Shavout and the first anniversary of the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage this month, I invite you to engage in the conversation to help unify our diverse city.