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Affordability helps East Austinites preserve legacy

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As growth continues all over Austin, officials and some local nonprofits are trying to keep East Austin roots intact.

Former resident Fortunato Flores said it’s sad to see his garden overgrown before he outgrew his East Austin home.

"It's just really sad to see it like this actually," Flores said.

It may be too late for Flores, but new construction is making it possible for some people to stay.

The Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation is building a stand-alone home at Willow and Navasota Streets thanks to a bill passed during the last legislative session. The bill ensures the nonprofit owns the land and pays the property taxes so the homeowner is only responsible for the taxes on the home.

The nonprofit only has plans for one more stand-alone home, like the one on Willow and Navasota Streets, but they're planning a subdivision with 58 affordable homes near Austin Community College's eastside campus.

While it’s not enough to help everyone, the East Austin Conservancy is working on a tax-assistance program.

"Whether you live in East Austin or not, these are our neighbors. We live in Austin. We're Austinites, and people are losing their homes, and I think we all have an obligation to help," East Austin Conservancy spokesperson Raul Alvarez said.

City and state officials have come together to make East Austin a Homestead Preservation District. The move would provide tax relief to homeowners who enter into a community Land Bank.

"It's a tremendous tool that can be a huge value to East Austin. We just need the county to join in with us, so we can implement it," Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez said.

The Austin City Council committed $55 million to affordable housing in 2006. Now, they're contemplating committing another $100 million this year.

"People need to be able to stay in their homes and stay in their community because that is what defines life," Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison said.

State Representative Eddie Rodriguez also believes price shouldn't define the city.

"If you want to live in San Francisco proper, you can't afford it unless you have a lot of money. I hope Austin doesn't get to that point," Rep. Rodriguez said.

Flores said it’s hard to realize when you can't afford to live in your house anymore. He’s learned to accept his bad fortune and hopes future generations will have the chance to take care of their mothers' gardens so that they can continue to tell this East Side Story.

"It's hard to see this place like this. I miss it a lot. I miss the people, but I have to get used to it. What else can I do?" Flores said.

Many East Austinites say more still needs to be done and say these programs will only help a small percentage of long-time homeowners.

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