Austin's murder count may be the highest it has been since 1984 but that's not unique to our city. Since the third quarter of 2019, homicide rates nationwide have risen by an average of 34%.
The capital city is growing like a weed—it's the fastest-growing large metropolitan area in the U.S.—but the growth in murder cases is happening in all 50 states, according to Police Chief Joseph Chacon. A new study by WalletHub finds that despite Austin's population jump, the homicide rate is not an outlier compared with the other 49 biggest cities in America.
On the 100-point scale, a zero indicates the lowest homicides and 100 indicates the highest homicides. The scores are calculated out of 50 points for homicides per capita from Q3 in 2021, 25 points for changes in homicides from Q3 in 2021 vs. Q3 in 2020, and 25 points for changes in homicides from Q3 in 2021 vs. Q3 in 2019.
In fact, Texas fared pretty well on the list overall. Austin fell in the bottom half of the list in 32nd place with a score of 37.67. Both Dallas and Arlington came in with higher homicide cases per capita than Austin, in 24th and 30th places, respectively. Two Texas cities came in lower: Fort Worth in 43rd and El Paso in 46th place.
Sandwiched between Tusla, OK, and Madison, WI, Austin scored 1.79 points for homicides per capita in Q3 of 2021—the 10th lowest across the entire list. Baltimore, Maryland, topped this category with a score of 13.79, while Lincoln, Nebraska, came in lowest with a score of zero.
In terms of changes between Q3 in 2021 and 2020, Austin came in 16th highest with a score of 0.63, though it was higher than any other Texas city on the list for this category. Highest on the list overall, Atlanta, Georgia was No. 1 for this category with 2.86 points and Cincinnati, Ohio was last, with a score of -4.89.
Finally, between changes in Q3 for 2021 and 2019, Austin hovered right around the middle of the list in 27th place with a score of 0.74 below Arlington and Fort Worth. Louisville, Kentucky, has seen the highest increase, with a score of 5.18, whereas Kansas City, Missouri, saw the biggest decrease with a score of -4.32.
Austin's murder count has been a topic of conversation as the city simultaneously faces a shortage of police officers for months. Austin voters will vote on a proposition in the upcoming November election that would add more police officers to the department, which proponents say will make the city safer but opponents say will hurt funding for other departments in the city.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.