On September 8, 2022, community supporters, UT faculty and staff, and LBJ alumni, joined students from across campus for A Conversation on Affordable Housing in Austin hosted in the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. This fishbowl style conversation, a collaboration with the Texas Grants Resource Center, highlighted the perspective and expertise of those working in the affordable housing space in the Austin community. The event also allowed the audience to share their own experiences relating to the topic. Featured experts included:
- Gabriela Garcia, Project Coordinator at BASTA (Building and Strengthening Tenant Action) - Gabby organizes and supports Austin renters in developing tenant associations so that neighbors can work collectively to improve the conditions of their homes and ensure that all Austinites have access to safe and affordable housing. Over the past 20 years she has worked in the nonprofit sector as an organizer, paralegal, and advocate for employment, immigration, and housing justice.
- Wayne Gerami, Chief Operating Officer at Austin Habitat for Humanity - Wayne has an extensive career in the mortgage, real estate, and affordable housing fields, first working in mortgages at age 16. After a two-year stint with Austin Habitat as an AmeriCorps volunteer doing home repairs for low-income households in East Austin, he received his MPAff from the LBJ School 2011. He returned to Austin Habitat in 2013 and has served in many leadership roles across the organization. As COO, Wayne leads the ReStore, Client Services, and HomeBase teams.
- Nora Linares-Moeller, Executive Director of HousingWorks Austin - Nora Linares-Moeller has served as the Executive Director of HousingWorks Austin since August of 2017. She became involved in the affordable housing world in 2013 by raising money for the successful 2013 housing bond campaign. In 2014, she began consulting with HousingWorks. HousingWorks Austin is a 501 c 3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to conduct research, implement educational initiatives, and advocate around housing affordability.
- Gregory Smith, President and CEO of Austin Revitalization Authority - Gregory L. Smith is a life-long resident of Austin, Texas, who has been involved with community development work for over thirty years. Gregory managed the Community Development programs for nearly eighteen years with the City of Austin prior to retiring from the city in 2005. As President and CEO of the Austin Revitalization Authority (ARA), since 2009, Gregory has continued his community development work by carrying out ARA’s mission, which is “to engage in commercial, residential and cultural development that promotes community well-being, while respecting the people, institutions and history of East Austin and other underserved communities.”
The fishbowl style of event was structured to allow the four featured participants speak on various topics before allowing participants to discuss their reactions, opinions, and experiences in smaller groups. After a few minutes, the larger group reconvened and shared the direction their group’s conversation took. To begin, each featured participant introduced themselves and their role, after which the conversation moved onto topics submitted by attendees of the event. The first part of the discussion centered on affordable housing bond programs. On this topic, Wayne Gerami was able to offer an explanation of what these bonds pay for, including some repairs for homes that can be salvaged. He continued by discussing the lack of land in the city yet to be developed. Gregory Smith added to this conversation with a discussion of project-based assistance and vouchers that can be used in the construction of affordable housing. Gabriela Garcia moved the discussion into the idea of displacement. She said that because of rising housing costs and gentrification, people are being displaced from their homes into unsafe living conditions.
The first portion of the event ended with a discussion of the solutions to the previously mentioned issued. The groups discussed reducing barriers to parking spots for mobile homes, addressing the stereotype of affordable housing, and looking how best to meet the needs of the various groups of people qualifying for affordable housing. Then, the conversation broke into smaller groups. Different groups discussed ideas like infrastructure needs that complement affordable housing, like water or transportation, or accessibility for older populations or those with disabilities.
When all participants reconvened, individuals were able to share their own experiences with accessing affordable housing or share their opinion of how the issue has evolved. Gabriela Garcia closed by saying that the most important thing to do is “to vote and get your voice heard at city council” and “educate yourself on what the city can change.”