Heritage Heights made news in 2015. Pamela Franklin became the only original resident to avail of a City offer in the late 1990s that residents in the Scattered Cooperative Infill Project of 48 houses on E. 11th Street between Comal and Chalmers would own their homes for $1 after paying for 15 years. Heritage Heights was Austin’s first, affordable single-family homeownership opportunity. Pamela had to fight to keep the City true to the bright vision they shared with her.
I’d been passing the Heritage Heights neighborhood – a subset of Blackshear-Prospect Hill, for years since buying a Blackshear Neighborhood Development Corporation home near Holy Cross Catholic Church in 2005.
To me, Heritage Heights was the home of three, star pupils in the Blackshear Bridge food access and wellness education programs across the street at Blackshear Elementary School’s Friendly Garden. I know Heritage Heights as the home of our friendly neighborhood Notary Public, an eighty-nine-year-old activist who keeps watch out from her corner and a wonderful family who lived on the opposite corner and fostered a happy bunch of children who loved to play outdoors. Their mom helped lead the formerly mostly Mexicana PTA before they moved far east to Austin’s outskirts.
Then came Code Next. An erstwhile – and a tip of the hat, successful, activist cajoled me to look at the maps. There on the first Code Next map was a solid red line around the perimeter of Heritage Heights designating the area for increased density. Someone seemed to have confused our residential part of E. 11th Street for a corridor – which it is not.
THE RIGHT TO SAY
It only took one person to go to City Council and the Planning Commission to say, “Hey. That’s not right. No one asked the neighborhood about that. And yes, we are watching.” The second and subsequent Code Next maps eliminated the red line and changed back Heritage Heights designation to single-family residential.
If one person can have such a basic impact, can you imagine how (Chant this…) — Our neighbors…united…will never be defeated!
COMMUNITY OUTREACH AT HERITAGE HEIGHTS
Since then, I’ve learned the complicated history of Heritage Heights and grieved at the recent displacement of some of our favorite students who lived there.
Blackshear Bridge has begun a community outreach and engagement program in Heritage Heights this Fall. We’ve started with conversations with three of the home-owners – our neighbors, and this winter we’ll knock on all the Heritage Heights doors to invite neighbors to meet soon.
Here’s the backstory so you will understand why its good to meet —
One of the early buyers in at Heritage Heights, now a recent economic refugee from Austin related that the City from the start denied the affordable homeownership offer existed. Over the years, frustrated residents of Heritage Heights moved out, others bought in under different arrangements. Now, 26 of the 48 original houses are still owned by the City Council’s Affordable Housing Finance Corporation and the Austin Infill Revitalization Corporation (AHFC-AIRC).
In 2015, Pamela Franklin stepped up and said, Here’s my dollar and now I want to own my home as promised. The City replied, no such offer existed. This pissed off Austin’s Atticus Finch at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Fred Fuchs. Fred took Pamela’s evidence of the City’s original homeownership offer and they won in Housing Court! Now Pamela does own her home. Congratulations, Pamela! Thanks, Fred.
So why are five units currently sitting empty?
That’s what we wanted to know when we heard our students and four other families were put out of their Heritage Heights rental homes this year.
Why did the City displace African American and Hispanic families living in such convenient proximity to the national Blue Ribbon-winning, Blackshear Elementary School when the City’s goal is to make our City livable for all?
In our view, if there were a supportive housing program in place, this wouldn’t have happened.
We dug a little and learned that the City is in the process of renovating the units – and they need it, that’s true. The two-story homes don’t have bathrooms on the bottom floor – not a good situation for persons with disabilities for sure. But couldn’t the City have done the renovations in phases that wouldn’t have meant displacing people from their homes? And will they set a good example for potential major renovations at another affordable housing development in our neighborhood – Housing Authority of Central Austin’s Rosewood Courts, by pro-actively providing the residents who were displaced with the first right of refusal, the right to return?
We also learned the City Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department is considering developing Accessory Dwelling Units on the lots owned by AHFC-AIRC.
So. That’s probably a good idea. It will mean additional affordable housing units in our neighborhood here in proximity to central Austin jobs, Town Lake, and the active, cultural lifestyle so many of us want to sustain and enjoy.
Blackshear Bridge holds that Heritage Heights neighbors should have input on all of such decisions. In fact, we think the City should meet the standards of Certified Housing Development Organizations and involve the Heritage Heights residents and the surrounding community partners – Huston-Tillotson University, Blackshear Elementary School, and Holy Cross Catholic Church in siting, design and program decisions.
What does program mean? Program means the people who are encouraged to live there.
Blackshear Bridge is bringing Heritage Heights residents together to apprise them of news and to develop siting, design and program concepts they can agree upon for their neighborhood. We like the following criteria for encouraging residents for affordable housing in Central East Austin and want to see a Preference Policy that meets all federal, state, and local laws. Possibilities:
- Generational Neighbors who stayed, who want to remain here, or who wish to return
- Families with children at Blackshear Elementary
- Teachers from Blackshear Elementary or Huston-Tillotson University
- Huston-Tillotson University Students
- African American and Hispanic people
- Low to moderate income people
- A mix of all of the above
Email hello@BlackshearBridge.org if you live, work, study or worship nearby or if your family has long-time generational ties to Blackshear-Prospect Hill and you have a question, suggestion, or want to get involved and help.
We are certain your involvement in unity with your neighbors will make a difference!
Here are some of the Visions we can achieve together.
We hope you’ll feel as inspired as we do at this Winter Solstice time of reflection before the New Year.
Thank you for being the best possible version of You!