By Jamie Haynes
Wednesday night, Austin organization Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio (DOH) continued their offensive against Presidium Group’s scheme to leverage a “pop up arts’ district” into zoning changes that threaten to accelerate the systematic displacement of working class and student populations living in the Riverside neighborhood.
Rally goers passed out hundreds of flyers, chanted slogans, and destroyed copies of Almost Real Things, self-described as an “Art zine for the in-progress andsoon-to-be.” By in-progress I assume they mean gentrification and soon-to-be the Domain 2.0 on Riverside.
According to dozens of community members who participated in the demonstration, these outcomes are neither desirable nor inevitable as evidenced by the continued string of victories DOH has won over Presidium Group’s lawyer Michael Whellan and property managers like Logan Stansell.
Dallas-based investors from Presidium own 17 large scale properties in Austin and are working with city officials to implement zoning changes which would allow them to extract enormous profits from the eviction, destruction, and reconstruction of sites like the Ballpark Apartments in favor of mixed use high-rise developments.
This same tactic allowed slumlords on Lakeshore Drive to exploit working class, immigrant, and people in search of low rents. I remember visiting the apartment of a former student where I saw the poor conditions of not only their unit but adjacent condemned buildings strewn with litter and in complete disrepair. The same tactics are being employed by Ballpark management, presumably at the behest of Presidium, to both drive out residents and maximize profits (i.e. TheRent Gap).
During Ballpark’s big move-in day this August, tenants found dirty apartments, broken appliances, mold, and a discarded bong, spawning one of Wednesday night’s most popular chants, “We don’t need an art’s district, we need ourapartments fixed!”
Local activist Jay Lozan described Presidium’s effort to establish a new arts district as, “a plot to make it okay for gentrification” and “an attempt to replace the current culture with a white-washed playground for the rich.”
Demonstrators described how their rent increases every year and that they are infuriated by Presidium’s rent reductions for businesses like Emo’s East if they are willing to sign onto the proposal and support zoning changes.
The night’s culminating event was the destruction of several copies of the fore mentioned ART zine. A closer look reveals that their “community” partners and underwriters are the very businesses fueling and profiting from gentrification like Springdale General and The Canopy.
The magazine also includes fake ads. In one absurd adaptation, Egan Sells,”The House Homie” is a fake realtor ad.
This poor attempt at parody is not only a slap in the face to the community being displaced, but also evokes memories of last summer’s Austin American Statesman advertising supplement. A content marketing freelancer described the existing east Austin community as “seedy” and “sinister.”
Demonstrators shared their own stories of struggle and solidarity in between chanting, “Austin’s not just for the rich, we won’tmove another inch,” and “People Power is how we fight, no domain onRiverside!”
Historically, city council resolutions and zoning changes have done little to impede the massive influx of global capital finding its way to Austin. Rather than participate in what Lozan called,”the politics of the ruling class,” Defend Our Hoodz is building a community network of organized individuals with a deep commitment to protecting Riverside. The rally also took pause to remember Amir Bachman Karan, a construction worker killed at a Presidium development in southeast Austin.
In a classic case of turning poison into medicine, DOH is using their righteous anger to fuel their fight against Presidium’s proposed Project Catalyst and spin-off ventures like ART zine. As one Ballpark resident so eloquently stated,”Our existence is not up for a vote…we will stop the violent wave ofdisplacement and gentrification stripping Austin of black and brownfaces.”