Could the planting of package bombs be related to gentrification in parts of the city?
Members of the real estate community are on high alert in Austin, Texas, as police continue to investigate three parcel bomb explosions this month as possible serial hate crimes–possibly related to gentrification in neighborhoods that were once mainly inhabited by African-Americans. It’s unclear whether a fourth bomb explosion over the weekend in a different part of the city is related.
The first deadly explosion that killed a 39-year-old man in early March has been linked to two others that occurred this month. One killed a teenage boy opening a package (it also injured a woman living at the same address), and another that left an elderly woman in critical condition, after picking up a package in front of her home, according to news reports.
On Sunday, two men on bicycles suffered non-life-threatening injuries from the explosion of a bomb on the west side of the city, that may have been detonated by a trip wire. The possibility that the road-side bomb was triggered when someone handled, kicked or came in contact with a trip wire, differs from the previous explosions that were set off when individuals handled packages that were left on doorsteps, said Police Chief Brian Manley.
Warning to REALTORS®
After the first three bombings were connected, Manley said that real estate agents should be on guard if they are out checking on any properties. He advised all residents to be cautious about opening any parcels they weren’t expecting and to call 911 if anything looks suspicious. Even picking up a package could set off an expertly made bomb.
Speaking to Inman recently, Julie Nelson, an Austin-based REALTOR® and agent trainer, said she had received a number of calls about the incidents.
“If I was going to show a property in the middle of the day and there was a package on the front porch, I would think twice about touching it,” Nelson said. “If it was a vacant home, I would walk away and call 911. If it was occupied, I would probably call the listing agent.”
A Keller Williams agent, James Cole, had taken classes at Austin Community College with parcel bomb victim Anthony Stephan House. He wasn’t taking any risks in the neighborhoods where he lives and works.
“One of the bombs that went off … was really close to a project I have been working on,” he told Inman. “I know all those neighbors. I’m not messing with any packages that don’t belong to me.”
Police are investigating the possibility that the explosions could be hate crimes.
“We have had two victims that were African-American, and the victim of this latest incident was a 75-year-old Hispanic female,” Police Chief Manley said during a news conference before the latest bombing.
Hot Real Estate Market
Some have speculated that the crimes could be related to tension in gentrifying parts of the city, where there is a growing white contingent moving into what were mainly African-American neighborhoods.
“I just can’t make that call yet, because the Northeast is where the first [explosion] happened, and I wouldn’t call that a gentrification area,” Cole said. “The second one [Springdale Hills], there’s a lot going on. I’m in that neighborhood flipping houses.”
The Springdale Hills suburb has appreciated dramatically over the years, and Cole is seeing younger families in their 30s buying homes in the $300,000s, living alongside homes occupied by people in their 80s and 90s who bought when they were worth $30,000 or $40,000.
In these up-and-coming parts of Austin, Cole is often out door-knocking and educating elderly residents on what they can expect to sell their homes for in light of the increased presence of investors offering homeowners low cash offers. He is monitoring the parcel bomb news closely, but he did not think the news of the crimes would deter clients from house hunting.
The first three explosions have all taken place in the East Austin area five to 12 miles apart, and the latter two occurred as the city hosted its annual media and music festival South by Southwest, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.
“It can happen anywhere, these are random acts,” he said.
FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents were at the scene, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Twitter.