Cost of East Austin transformation into a hip neighborhood

Cost of East Austin transformation into a hip neighborhood

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Hours before it opens each day, a line forms outside Franklin BBQ. Home to what's been called the best BBQ in the country, Franklin sits just east of I-35.

"We've lived in east Austin a long time," said owner Aaron Franklin. "I don't like to venture to the other side," he jokes.

So, visitors and residents alike are venturing to East Austin where dive bars and coffee shops can now be found on nearly every corner with food trailers scattered in between. Austin chef Paul Qui has three of his popular 'East Side King' food trucks in the neighborhood and will soon open a restaurant there.

"I feel like it's a good blend of artist studios, dive bars, its proximity to downtown Austin, its accessibility to the highway…just a blend of a lot of different things that makes this area feel right," said Qui.

There's no denying East Austin is a hip neighborhood.

"It's my favorite part of Austin. This is where all my favorite bars and restaurants are, there's a lot of creativity here," said Nicholas Miller.

He and his students are painting a mural on the side of historic Tex-Mex restaurant, Cisco's. It's meant to represent old life meeting new life. That's exactly how some may describe the drastic transformation happening in East Austin. Small, older homes are giving way to larger modern houses. Rundown businesses are being replaced by mixed-use development.

Given the area's affordability and accessibility, it's easy to see why people would want to move in. But, for decades, the area was home to mostly minority and low-income families, many who can no longer afford to live there due to rising property taxes.

"Certainly the two groups who take it on the chin the hardest are fixed income seniors and low income renters," said City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson.

According to Robinson, the average price of a single family home in the 78702 zip code has tripled since 2007. That has led to gentrification, when low-income residents are displaced and the average income in a neighborhood increases. That has caused a shift in the neighborhood's demographics.

"You see far fewer households of color. You see far more young, Anglo households. You can see it on their street, people in their 20's riding bikes, single-speed hipsters coming to and from," Robinson tells FOX 7.

Former Austin city council member Raul Alvarez has lived in East Austin nearly 20 years. He's the president of East Austin Conservancy, also known as East Side Guardians. The organization has launched a campaign to help long time East Austin residents pay their property taxes.

"We're trying to embrace the new members of the community and work with the long-term community residents and organizations to support longtime residents who may be having a tough time," said Alvarez.

The issue is also the subject of a bill filed in Texas that would allow Austin to resurrect a homestead preservation district, giving relief to those struggling to pay property taxes. City officials have voiced support of the bill.

With all the development, the city is faced with a constant challenge of finding a balance between welcoming revitalization and preserving the culture and history that make East Austin so unique.

"We very much encourage the development, it's great for our tax base, but it puts an enormous amount of pressure on existing residents. How do we keep those folks in their home?" asked Robinson.

It's a question that Huston-Tillotson University professor Dr. Carol Adams-Means is also asking. She's researched the history of East Austin and the changes to the area.

"I believe they (the changes) are somewhat confusing to some of the historic long-term residents. Some of these people have had families living in east Austin since 20s and 30s"

And some fell that the rapid transformation needs to slow down.

"You have all this unbridled growth going on, but if you look at east Austin it's like a hodgepodge despite efforts to have urban planning going on here," said Dr. Adams-Means.

Josh who grew up in his East Austin home adds, "It doesn't benefit me to have many mansions and modern spec houses around my normal size house and just raising my property taxes. It doesn't benefit me in the least to hear construction every morning for the past two years because there are new houses being built around me."

But, as property taxes rise, the area, which has been plagued with crime, is seeing a decline in some illegal activity. The city recently invested millions on improvements to East 11th Street and is working on East 12th Street, a street known for high crime.

"I think some transition needs to be made and it's time. Not for the families sake, but for the children's sake," said Lozina "Lola" Stephens-Bell.

She's spent the last three decades feeding children and the homeless out of her tiny Cajun restaurant in the Rosewood neighborhood. It's a reminder of the poverty that still exists just beyond the rows of popular bars and restaurants. She believes the changes in East Austin are mostly positive, but as the area continues to become more hip, she doesn't want those who have made this neighborhood their home for decades to be forgotten.

"It's not just an east side issue, but an Austin issue," said Alvarez. "There's a benefit to what the east side is about to our entire community."

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