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Always a trailblazer, the City of Austin recently set an example in raising its employees’ minimum wage to $20 per hour, with an upcoming boost to $22. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, owned and operated by the city, is following suit. It has officially committed to a $20 minimum wage, going into effect the week of December 19.

This wage goes to “[f]ood service workers and members of UNITE HERE Local 23,” the latter being a multi-city hospitality workers’ union. A member of the union, Cinthya San Miguel, commented on the citywide raise when it was first announced, saying this move was part of “standing up for Austin workers.”

Delaware North Company (DNC) is the first of those contracted with the City of Austin to set the new wage. All companies have until January 1 to make the change. In October, the city calculated the local “living wage” (i.e. the wage necessary to comfortably support basic needs) at $20 per hour.

“We are thankful the Austin City Council increased the minimum wage for city employees and thank Council Member Fuentes for spearheading this effort in City Hall,” said San Miguel in a new press release. “Workers are getting priced out of living in Austin, but this wage increase is a step in the right direction – allowing us more room to breathe and provide for our families. This is an example of what we can do when elected leaders, companies, and the workers come together.”

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes connected the wage increase to a matter of “basic dignity” and keeping up with Austin’s rising prices. “Our food service workers keep this city vibrant and thriving. They deserve the opportunity to call this place home,” she said.

In 2019, the airport announced a 20-year master growth plan detailing more than 60 projects that will continue to change the landscape of the growing public service, in concert with less-predictable changes from the city.

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New Red River development will double affordable housing units in downtown Austin

Affordable Living

As Austin continues to grow and real estate continues to get pricier, the city council is stepping in. On September 29, Austin City Council approved “full negotiations” to transform a piece of city-owned property on downtown's Red River Street, the former site of HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital. The project will make 232 units available for affordable housing, according to a news release.

The project is being negotiated between affordable and mixed-income business Capital A Housing, affordable housing nonprofit the NHP Foundation, and real estate developers Aspen Heights. The project at 1215 Red River St. and 606 E. 12th St. comprises multiple towers, and targets mixed-income residents, a tactic that aims to diversify the complex rather than creating a socio-economic bubble.

The approval allows negotiations for the Master Development Agreement (MDA), which will ultimately lead to a final approval back in the council. The lease under negotiation lasts 99 years, and should be finalized by spring of 2023 for a summer of 2027 delivery target.

Located near the newly revamped Waterloo Park and a Project Connect light rail line to come, this property has potential to be one of the most connected in the city. The neighborhood is easily walkable to most places downtown, and even some parts of East Austin. It is just up the street from some of the city’s busiest nightlife, a third of a mile from Mohawk, the northernmost of the densely situated Red River music venues.

“We are thrilled to join this project to help deliver an unprecedented level of affordable housing,” said CEO of Capital A Housing Fayez Kazi in the release. “[It] will double the number of income-restricted units in downtown Austin.” The city currently manages 233.

The residential towers contain a total of 921 units, with more than a quarter reserved for low-income Austin families. Of those 232 units, half have more than one bedroom — 90 with two bedrooms, and 23 with three bedrooms. These are all within the 27-floor south tower.

All of the previous hospital site will be redeveloped, and the project will take up almost the whole block. This includes amenities such as a 30,000-square-foot plaza, a food hall, a business incubator, and onsite childcare deemed “affordable.” In keeping with the neighborhood’s musical traditions, an onsite music venue will offer rent below the market rate.

Breaking with some of the uglier history in the area, this development attempts to balance out some of the errors of the '60s, when the city displaced 475 households for the Brackenridge Hospital, the Frank Erwin Center, parking, and the same park new residents will be able to enjoy outside their door. The release points out that while 218 families were displaced, this project gives back the same number of affordable housing units, plus an additional 14.

“It’s important to remember this history of this area,” said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison. “The urgent need to reconcile those bad decisions is what drove me to push my colleagues to give our city staff more time to kick the tires on this proposal… .”

Mayor Steve Adler commented on the plans, noting the substantial increase of affordable housing. "We need more,” he said, “but this is an important step.”

More information about the project is available at austintexas.gov.

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Everything to know about Austin's 4th annual Stay Black and Live Juneteenth Festival

CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY

A weeklong celebration of Black history is returning to Austin with a focus on local organizations and people that are making long-lasting impacts in the local community. The George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center is hosting the fourth annual Stay Black and Live (SB&L) Juneteenth Festival June 12-19.

The festival began as a livestream in 2020, and has since captured the attention of community members citywide, making it the cornerstone event for Austin's Juneteenth celebrations. SB&L's theme for 2023 is "Austin Family Reunion," centered around community kickbacks, cookouts, live music, and more.

In a release, Carver Museum director Carre Adams said the museum continuously aims to "honor the significance of Juneteenth" with their festival programming and education.

“We are incredibly proud to continue Austin’s Juneteenth celebration and tradition at our historic museum,” said Adams. “We invite the Austin community to join us as we commemorate this momentous occasion and bring Black history past, present and future to the forefront.”

The festival will begin with a presentation on Monday, June 12 hosted by 2023 Grammy Music Educator Award winner and Desoto, Texas high school music teacher Pamela Dawson. The website states she will sing and use "negro spirituals" during her interactive session to inform guests about "African-American contributions to the sonic art form." Dawson's lecture will take place from 6-8 pm at the Boyd Vance Theater.

Below is a full weekend schedule for the festival:

Thursday, June 15
James Beard award-winning food historian and author Michael W. Twitty will take the stage at the Boyd Vance Theater from 6-8 pm. He'll discuss the eating habits and culinary practices of African Americans, and open a conversation about modern-day abolitionist movements.

Friday, June 16
Austinites of every age are invited to the festival's community kickback and dance party from 6-9 pm at the Carver Museum's Freedom Lawn. The party will be accompanied by high-energy music by DJ Cysum and DJ Dontizl. The event is in partnership with Creative Action, who will also set up a "sensory station" for attendees to express themselves with glowsticks, kites, bubbles, and more. A special performance by BodyRockATX will close out the event.

Saturday, June 17
The day will begin at 10 am with the annual historic Juneteenth Parade through Austin's Rosewood neighborhood. The parade route starts on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and goes all the way to Rosewood Park.

Following the parade, visitors can gather for the Austin Family Reunion Cookout and Music Festival behind the Carver Museum from 3-6 pm. Veteran pitmasters will provide the delicious barbecue while Lady Joy and KAZI 88.7 DJs host the festivities. Attendees can also enjoy a vendor market, carnival games, workshops, and more.

Saul Paul will host the music festival from 6-9 pm on the Freedom Lawn, with performances by Distinguished Soundz, Stretch Muzik, and DJ Kay Kali. Headliners GAPX will perform at 8 pm.

Monday, June 19
Historian, Harvard law professor, and Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed will lead a Free Your Mind Conversation Series discussion about her book, On Juneteenth, from 1-3 pm at the Boyd Vance Theater.

Later that afternoon from 5-8 pm, the museum will host their final event for the week with their "Community Revival and Remembrance" ceremony in partnership with the Austin Justice Coalition. The closing celebration will pay respect to those who were victims of police violence in Texas.

More information about the Stay Black and Live Juneteenth Festival can be found on juneteenthatx.com.

Political satirist John Oliver heads to Austin on standup tour

Terrifying Times, Again

After the end of the regular legislative session, many Texans could use a dose of political satire, and John Oliver is on his way. The comedian and TV writer will perform live at Bass Concert Hall on Sunday, August 20 as part of the John Oliver Live tour.

Oliver is best known as the host and producer of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a political recap show that showcases the English comedian's biting sarcasm, which has won him several awards: 23 Primetime Emmys, five Writer’s Guild Awards, two Critics’ Choice Television Awards, four Television Critics Association Awards, and two Peabodys.

His work with similar shows spans nearly two decades, starting as a correspondent on The Daily Show in 2006, and including his time hosting podcastThe Bugle with Andy Zaltzman.

Oliver's standup career goes about as far back, starting with his 2008 special, John Oliver: Terrifying Times. Fans may also recognize the actor for his role in Community as a disgruntled, morally-ambiguous professor of psychology, or his voice work on cartoons including Big Mouth, Bob's Burgers, and Rick & Morty.

Tickets will be available to Texas Performing Arts' "Texas Inner Circle" members on Wednesday, June 7. General sales begin on Friday, June 9, at 10 AM. Check Ticketmaster for availability.

Controversial comedian Dave Chappelle plots out 4 Texas arena shows, including Austin

Chappelle's Show(s)

Comedian/actor Dave Chappelle will soon bring his "Dave Chappelle Live" stand-up comedy show to arenas in four cities in Texas, including the Moody Center in Austin on July 14.

Other dates include the American Airlines Center in Dallas on June 29, the Toyota Center in Houston on July 1, and the AT&T Center in San Antonio on July 12.

Chappelle is a complicated figure who's been celebrated for his trailblazing comedy and vilified for his controversial stances. Chappelle's Show, which ran from 2003 to 2006 on Comedy Central, was widely praised, and Chappelle remained extremely popular despite the abrupt end of the show and him choosing to recede from the spotlight in the following decade.

His re-emergence in the late 2010s brought success in the form of three straight Grammy wins for Best Comedy Album, but also continued jokes aimed at transgender people. He has been the subject of multiple protests over that material, and has even had a show canceled by a venue in Minneapolis after receiving criticism for hosting him.

As if to underscore the contentious nature of his comedy, no cellphones, cameras, or recording devices will be allowed at any of the four shows. All phones and smart watches will be secured in special pouches that can be unlocked at the end of the show. Anyone caught with a cellphone in the venue will be immediately ejected.

Tickets for the four shows will go on sale at 5 pm on June 5 at ticketmaster.com.