Yesterday, I was in Austin, Texas working with leaders of our project there.
We call it Urban Connection--Austin. Dean Smith, our Executive Director, spends his days weaving new connections in one very challenged neighborhood north of downtown. We are very fortunate to have found Dean to lead this effort.
Like our work in San Antonio, I know what is happening "on the ground" in Austin will pay a huge return on investment in the lives of thousands who live in the shadow our state capitol.
During my trip, I met Anthony Williams .
Anthony is the president of the local homeowners association and extremely involved in work to improve his community. He joined us for a presentation to the leaders of the University Avenue Church of Christ, the church that has done more to support our move into Austin than any other.
Anthony sketched a very graphic and helpful picture of the kind of havoc that "slum lords" often wreak upon a neighborhood.
Largely unregulated by the city, these outside, usually absent landlords continue to collect rents while putting little, if anything, back into their properties. Leaking roofs, sub-standard plumbing and electrical service, landscaping and general upkeep go begging. Meanwhile, tenants have few real rights. Those who complain or call for help from city officials end up being evicted.
"Our neighborhood is characterized by fear and darkness," Anthony informed the group.
Property rights are an essential element in the social contract of our nation. But, like everything else, when unattended and allowed to go unregulated, people suffer and grow hopeless.
Ironically, when this happens, the rest of us tend to "blame the victims" for the shoddy appearance and upkeep of inner city neighborhoods. The real culprits aren't anywhere to be found, which is a huge part of the problem.
Think about it. If I am renting from a totally unresponsive property owner, why should I invest my hard earned, but limited funds to address a problem that I didn't cause and that rightfully belongs to someone else?
Deregulation at the street level turns out to be the genesis of lots of very real, day-to-day problems among the urban poor.
Anthony Williams is working hard to organize his neighbors to do something constructive in response. I'm glad he's on our team in Austin.