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(Capital Metro)

The Federal Transit Administration awarded Capital Metro a $900,0000 grant to support the planning and anti-displacement efforts of Project Connect.


Project Connect is a $7.1 billion transit plan. Austin residents voted overwhelmingly to support a city property tax rate increase that will help pay for it in the Nov. 3 election. Local property tax revenue will only pay for about half of the project's estimated costs; the remainder will need to come through federal grants.

The $900,000 will be used to study a 12-mile corridor that includes North Lamar Boulevard, Guadalupe Street and Riverside Drive and will be used by both of the light rail lines proposed under Project Connect. The outcome of the study will be a series of recommendations for how to prevent displacement and support affordable housing projects along the corridor.

Although Project Connect proponents say the plan will help make Austin a more equitable city by ensuring residents have access to an affordable and comprehensive transit system, there are also concerns that it could exacerbate inequity by driving up real estate prices along new routes.

In other U.S. cities, transit investment has accelerated gentrification and displacement. Researchers at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University found that the "predominant pattern" or neighborhood change following transit investment was "one in which housing becomes more expensive, neighborhood residents become wealthier and vehicle ownership becomes more common," according to a 2010 report.

This has happened in Austin. The construction of MoPac in 1971 led to the destruction of nearly one-third of the homes in Clarkesville, one of the earliest freedmen's communities established west of the Mississippi and, during segregation, one of the few remaining Black neighborhoods west of I-35.

Similarly, the building of I-35 in the 1960s "both displaced existing Black communities and reinforced the de facto and de jure segregation of Austin" codified in the city's 1928 master place, according to the Austin Justice Coalition.

For these reasons, Austin City Council allocated $300 million of the project's budget for anti-displacement initiatives, such as developing new affordable housing and providing financial assistance to residents.

Opponents of Project Connect and the property tax rate increase that will help pay for it raised concerns about whether the city of Austin and its transit agency, Capital Metro, would be able to secure the federal funding it requires.

"The … grant award comes only one month after Austinites made a historic decision to fund Project Connect, and it is the first example of federal funding Capital Metro expects to secure in support of the program," the transit agency said in a press release Tuesday.

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