preservation

Let the Rosewood Courts Bloom

In the City of Austin, there are still buildings that are reminiscent of the 1937 Wagner-Steagall National Housing Act which funded public housing. The Rosewood Courts were the first housing project for Black people in the nation, and the were located in what was historically called the “Negro District.” While most buildings are eligible for national recognition after fifty years, low staffing and high administrative costs have prevented an extensive survey of the entirety of East Austin historical sites. The fact remains that valuable parts of history can get erased if cities fail to acknowledge communities of color.

From a history perspective, there is much about the project that enables the complex to be protected. Open on September 1, 1939, Rosewood Court embodies the international style of most public housing in a way that allows for more space for people than current projects. The contractor who reviewed the site revealed that the buildings were eligible for a historically respectful upgrade that makes the building more energy efficient while not costing the city a great deal of money. Since said information has been available since January 31, 2017, it becomes more prudent for the city to act rather than discuss further adjustments to the property.

As a housing project, it cannot be understated that there is very little public housing available for Austin residents, and very little of it is accessible to public transportation. There are three historic but accessible locations that are administrated by the city, and they are all surrounded by a growing supply of luxury housing. All three of the sites (indicated by the green) are close to the downtown where most social services are offered, and all of them are within walking distance to bus service. Being downtown, the residents of these projects are very aware that they have a limited time for existence unless the city or neighborhood advocates complete the entry on the National Register.

However, the main reason that the city should maintain the property and register for protection is that people still live in those complexes. Even though staff acknowledged the poor conditions of the facilities in staff reports, they waited to change the circumstances for people helpless to move or acquire further maintenance. In a city with three-digit summers and occasional freezing during the winter, it is crucial to offer updated HVAC systems for public safety. The housing of the poor should not constantly be viewed as an opportunity to “revitalize” a neighborhood without them in it.

The cost of renovation was quoted as being $1.5 million, which is a small price to maintain affordable housing in Central Austin. On October 10, 2017, consultants asked for an additional $2.275 million for reorganization of the land use development code, which was received on October 12, 2017. It is acceptable and reasonable for the city to pay the $1.5 million to save its most vulnerable population. On December 23, 1937, the city established the Housing Authority for the City of Austin to address the housing costs which were already frustrating families. It is time for the city to respect that not everyone is going to own homes or make excessive income for housing.

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