AUSTIN, Texas – According to the annual Texas Lyceum poll released earlier this year, nearly half of Texas adults say it’s increasingly hard to find affordable housing where they live.
And in a lot of Texas’ major cities like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, economic growth and development is pushing out many low-income, long-time residents.
It's a growing problem in Austin's historic Montopolis neighborhood, where the street views of the downtown Austin skyline are making it increasingly appealing to developers.
But that threatens to push out many of the low-income, Black and Hispanic residents who have been there for generations, and one man is leading his neighbors to fight back.
“Everybody that lives here has really deep roots in the community," said Noe Elias, who has called the Montopolis neighborhood home since the early '90s.
“I had my uncle living down the street, my aunt living down the street on the other side. Then when my siblings and my cousins grew older, they bought a house or built a house down the road so, you know, it's just a community and that's how it's been for a long time."
According to a local historian, Montopolis was founded in 1830, was at one point a Freedman's colony, and wasn’t annexed into the city of Austin until the mid-20th century.
“This is… in the present day city limits of Austin, the most historic neighborhood that nobody knows anything about," said Fred McGhee, historian and author of Austin's Montopolis Neighborhood. "It's simultaneously a poor neighborhood, and a neighborhood occupied by people of color. And in Austin that's not the type of history that gets glorified.”
Elias first got involved in preserving Montopolis five years ago when a developer bought the neighborhood’s historic school with plans to demolish it.
“We have people that actually went to that segregated school that live down the road and they all made sure that we knew the history. So when that time came, you know the whole community rallied around, and we were able to save the school," said Elias.
Recently a developer submitted a proposal to re-zone a lot in Montopolis on Kemp Street to build townhomes and condos.
Elias and other neighbors fought the proposal and advocated against it in front of Austin's City Council until the developer ultimately backed down.
“It feels personal because you know… it's my neighbors, it's my family that would be displaced if we built, you know, 33 condos down the street," said Elias. "Also on the other end it would also be my neighbors and my family and my childhood friends that would benefit from having low income housing built on that lot rather than those condos.”
Even with this victory, Elias says it’s far from the end of the fight.
“The reality is that here in our neighborhood the median income is about $33,000," said Elias. "We have people losing their homes due to high property taxes due to new developments around here.”
His ultimate goal is to preserve the neighborhood’s legacy and keep it affordable for its longtime residents.
“We have a history of low income, single-family homes, and that's what we're going to fight for," said Elias. "To a certain extent, if you get rid of that history, you're essentially ripping the community apart. That's how it feels.”