Defend Our Hoodz fights power imbalance in East Austin

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Defend Our Hoodz activists march through East Austin in February to raise awareness about the area’s changing landscape.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kristen Hotopp

To read more stories about the history of gentrification in East Austin, click here.

Editor’s note: Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect the sources’ identities.

Bertha Delgado watched the landscape of her East Austin community slowly shift as new, sleeker homes replaced the ones she had known all her life. Entire families vanished, and soon, murals and businesses followed suit. 

“I’m angry,” Delgado said. “I cry daily. It’s emotional, because nobody understands the heritage, the richness of what our area holds, and there’s only maybe a handful of people that are willing to stand up for it.”

Delgado’s family has deep roots in East Austin. Edward Rendon Sr. Park is named after her grandfather, a migrant farmer who became an influential voice for the Mexican-American community on the east side. Delgado said she remembers a very different East Austin, one dominated by industrial plants and pollution. She said once she had children, she realized she needed to advocate for their future in the neighborhood. 

Prompted by displacement and loss of culture in the east side, Delgado and other community activists formed Defend Our Hoodz, a group that aims to organize residents in opposition to harmful ordinances and developments. 

“When we would pass by and see a family that had once lived there gone, and we went to that house as children, we didn’t understand why they were not there anymore,” Delgado said. “Many of us were just doing our daily basic things and not seeing that these people were wanting to come in and redevelop our neighborhoods. I think we were blinded to a lot of the change in the beginning.”

The fight against Type 2 short-term rentals — housing units whose owners do not live on the property and instead rent out the homes for 30 days or less at a time — was the catalyst for Defend Our Hoodz. In February, the Austin City Council voted to enhance restrictions on such rentals in order to eliminate them by 2022. Salvador Buendía, an organizer for Defend Our Hoodz, said Type 2 short-term rentals offered through services such as Airbnb encourage the increased property prices and speculation that lead to displacement. 

“In East Austin, where affordability is such an issue, you’re taking one house off the market that could be rented to a homeowner,” Buendía said. “With the short-term rental, these owners can double their profits. So why are they going to rent it out to some long-term resident when they can just start renting it to tourists or whoever?”

Defend Our Hoodz is also involved in the ongoing boycott of Blue Cat Cafe. The cafe drew the ire of the community when it signed a lease with F&F Real Estate Ventures, the development firm that demolished Jumpolin, a Mexican-American immigrant family’s local piñata store, with no warning and all of the merchandise still inside. Buendía said this instance was indicative of the power imbalance that permeates the east side. 

“Racism is the reason East Austin was never invested in when it was just black and brown people,” Buendía said. “That disinvestment meant prices were pushed down, and that created this environment that could then be easily exploited. At the end of the day, it’s about who has power and who doesn’t. Systemically, the power was never in the hands of the people that lived and struggled in these neighborhoods.”

Delgado said she will continue to educate the members of her community to fight for their neighborhoods. 

“I’m just teaching what I’ve learned to others,” Delgado said. “I’ve been working on this type of stuff for quite some time, and we’ve been hitting hard in the last three years, but it’s still going to be a battle — and this battle’s not going to end.”