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ORGANIZATION FINDS A “HOME” FOR UNDERREPRESENTED COMMUNITIES THREATENED BY THE IMPACT OF DEVELOPMENT

As reported recently by the Austin Business Journal, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin on residential displacement and  gentrification in Austin pinpoints rising concerns for the city’s population, and in particular at-risk communities.

While issues of gentrification and affordability are at the heart of this study, the research also underscores another important factor of development. There is a need, especially in certain areas of high displacement risk, to take a close look at the resources required to support the most vulnerable or underrepresented communities.

Per the study, “Since the late 1990s, Austin has seen a dramatic rise in housing costs, shifting the city from among the most affordable in the country to one where a growing share of residents can no longer afford to live.”

This issue is a topic of growing concern. As depicted by “A Tale of Two Austins” published by One Voice Central Texas, Austin is the top housing market to invest in this year, while 31 percent of Austin renters have gone without basic necessities just to afford the cost of housing. Meanwhile those most impacted are renters, communities of color, people making at or below 80 percent median family income and households with children at or below the poverty line, according to the study.

In fact, the latest Community Advancement Network (CAN) dashboard published in 2018 demonstrates such challenges in affordability by spotlighting a disparity with impacted communities. Twelve percent of Travis County residents live in poverty. The rate of childhood poverty in Travis County was most recently reported as nearly 18 percent (58,111 children).

Why does this matter? When displacement happens in vulnerable populations, such as areas identified within the “Eastern Crescent” east of I-35 stretching from U.S. Highway 183 and ending south of downtown, those being pushed to the edges of the city lose access to vital resources needed to thrive.

Many families currently living in centralized areas with close access to employment, schools, and resources such as out-of-school-time care, are forced to decide between affordable housing and access to conveniences that help root them in their community. This includes access to community centers and service providers for families and individuals challenged to meet economic demands. Unfortunately, it especially impacts families with children living below the poverty line.

By providing support mechanisms in these communities, it should be possible to impact high rates of displacement. This requires putting the interests of vulnerable communities at the forefront of the conversation.

One organization that provides services to those with a greater identified need is Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area(BGCAA). In the Spring of 2019 the organization will complete construction on its flagship Home Club on the 10-acre Sheth Family Campus located in the heart of the “Eastern Crescent.” The 32,000-square-foot facility was planned and located specifically to meet the needs of youth and families in an East Austin community with more than 8,000 identified Title 1 youth (an important indicator of low-income status).

The new Home Club will ultimately serve more than 1,000 Austin-area youth per year. With it, BGCAA will be able to provide life-changing services meeting the needs of an economically disadvantaged youth population and impacting kids and teens from neighborhoods throughout the city. It will also serve as a community center with resources to engage and support a variety of individuals from the surrounding neighborhoods.

For an organization that prides itself in being a second home for members and their families, BGCAA’s Home Club is one way the organization plans to expand and serve those who have the most need in the Austin area.

According to the BGCAA 2017-2018 impact data, 91 percent of more than 7,500 registered members annually qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. What this means is that throughout Austin there are thousands of kids and teens whose families may be struggling to make ends meet. These same families may also benefit from solutions within their community to help avoid becoming another displacement statistic.

While the BGCAA Home Club construction is just one such example, the report by the University of Texas at Austin sites cited several solutions the city of Austin can take to prevent displacement and maintain the city’s cultural character. Suggestions involve putting community voices at the center. Keeping Austin “home” for identified “at-risk” communities will mean opening an ear to new strategies and creating opportunities to support current residents in meeting the demands of the changing landscape.

Learn more and support the “Path to Great Futures” at the new Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area Home Club on the Sheth Family Campus – opening in the Spring 2019.

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area (BGCAA) is Austin’s leading youth development agency currently serving more than 7,500 registered members, engaging with more than 11,300 kids and teens through 34 locations in the Austin area.

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