By Michael Nolan
On the evening of Monday, June 28, tenants and members of the housing struggle organization United Neighborhood Defense Movement (UNDM) carried out a demonstration outside the residence of Austin city manager Spencer Cronk, demanding stable housing for the working class and poor throughout the ongoing economic crisis. The protest came 18 days after a day of action in which the group confronted Cronk as he left an Austin City Council meeting and demonstrated outside his house.
The action began as one activist knocked on Cronk’s front door. Although there were people in the house, no one answered, and the activist loudly addressed those inside through the door. He highlighted how Cronk had “failed to meet or even address the demands of the people of Austin.” As part of their five main demands, UNDM has called for all back rent to be waived and an end to all evictions for non-payment.
Cronk was hired as City Manager by the City Council in 2018 and is paid a salary of $378,071 in addition to benefits such as allowances for expenses and housing. The office of the City Manager consists of over 14,000 employees and is responsible for carrying out policy set by the City Council, but operates with relative independence.
Other demonstrators placed yard signs in Cronk’s lawn with slogans demanding that the burden of housing be shifted off of tenants, and onto the wealthy who have profited throughout the New Depression. Cronk and the Austin City Council have continued to push improperly managed rent relief programs that hinder tenant access with unnecessary bureaucratic procedures and continued uncertainty. UNDM activists said they don’t want to compete against other tenants and that the landlords should be the ones to apply for the rent relief, as it will be paid directly to them regardless.
The protesters posted a mock eviction notice on his front door and pasted signs on Cronk’s windows that read, “Warning: Rat-Infested” in reference to Cronk as a “Bureaucrat Rat” and to the pest problems in the poorly maintained housing run by negligent landlords across the city.
From behind a banner reading, “It’s their crisis, we won’t pay! Waive the back rent. No non-payment evictions,” an activist gave a speech emphasizing the contradiction between Cronk’s high salary and the debt, lack of secure housing, and evictions faced by the Austin tenants he claims to represent. He stated, “Spencer Cronk has failed to respond to our demands and we know he will do nothing for the people unless the people organize and come to him. … If he thinks he can ignore us, while we’re facing eviction and slum conditions, he is sorely mistaken.”
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