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Tovo now pushing for three rental registration programs for city

Thursday, November 21, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Council Member Kathie Tovo continued Tuesday to try to persuade her colleagues to approve what are now three separate additional rental registration programs for areas that have been deemed to host problematic rental properties.


Those regions include the North Austin Civic Association/Restore Rundberg section, the East Riverside area, and certain portions of central Austin collectively under the Central Austin Neighborhood Advisory Committee, or CANPAC.


Many regions of the latter segment of Tovo’s plan include neighborhoods adjacent to the University of Texas. Indeed, Tovo sees the CANPAC registry as a way to combat the lingering issue of stealth dorms.


Tovo appeared eager to earn the support of her colleagues. In addition to an increased focus on stealth dorms in the Central Austin portion of the registry, she highlighted changes in the programs that would extend exemptions to buildings built within the last 15 years, and strike a tenant list that had raised concerns over privacy issues.


She then turned to her colleagues. “It would be helpful, I think, to get a sense of whether, among those of you who had concerns, whether these ordinances feel like they’ve addressed them,” Tovo prompted. “Do you still have concerns? Are there bits of information that would be useful?”


Mayor Lee Leffingwell took the opening to ask about the cost of the program. Code Compliance Director Carl Smart told Council members that Tovo’s changes would make it the program more affordable.


Earlier, Council Member Bill Spelman pushed Smart on that same issue. Smart has maintained that Tovo’s pilot programs could be executed without an increase in the Code Compliance department’s budget. Spelman asked Smart what the employees who would be shifted to cover the new pilot registry would otherwise do.


“You approved a budget that gave us an additional four officers in the multifamily program and we (now) have a total of eight,” Smart said. “We would actually shift three of those officers to these target areas.”


“So instead of having eight inspectors to cover the entire city, we would have five inspectors covering the entire city, three inspectors focusing on these three areas?” Spelman continued.


“That’s correct,” Smart replied.


The three proposals offered Tuesday by Tovo were originally wrapped into one pilot rental registry. Though the pilot nature of the program has not changed – if approved, it would still run for 18 months – Tovo broke the original ordinance into three pieces after Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole made clear her intention to recuse herself on one of the items.


Tovo’s original proposal came forward with another registration program pitched by Spelman. At the time, Council Member Laura Morrison suggested that the two programs would be complementary. Spelman’s passed. Tovo’s languished amid questions of necessity. Since, it has been delayed repeatedly.


Under Tovo’s plans, most landlords in the three regions of the city targeted by the legislation would have to register their properties. Tovo cast the approach as a “proactive” one.


Still, Council members returned to the question of redundancy Tuesday. “What do you think these three ordinances add to what we already have?” asked Leffingwell.


Smart responded that Tovo’s proposals would allow staff to focus on certain areas of the city.


Council is set to vote today on Tovo’s proposals. Then, they are also scheduled for a vote on a decrease in occupancy limits from six to four unrelated adults. After Tuesday’s hearing, Tovo told In Fact Daily that she feels that her rental registration program and the occupancy limits “work best together.”


“I think…that the pilot program for rental registration would allow us to make some inroads with regard to stealth dorms as well as addressing the issue of substandard housing, so I think that one does stand on its own,” Tovo said. “I think the occupancy limits work best if we give staff tools to better enforce those limits because right now that is a challenge. It’s not just that we allow, say, six, unrelated adults, it’s that the staff don’t have a great mechanism for enforcing that.”


She continued: “Without that enforcement piece – which I think we’ll get from rental registration – I’m not sure that just reducing that number is going to be effective.”


Tovo was careful to note that she supports both sets of items.

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