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Council backs code amendment to require landlords to take vouchers

Friday, April 18, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members Thursday initiated a code amendment process that could end in the approval of the inclusion of source of income as a protected class for the purposes of determining rental housing discrimination complaints. Staff is set to bring any proposed code amendment back to Council by Aug. 1.


The action came over the concerns of two groups present at Thursday’s hearing. Both the Austin Apartment Association and the Austin Board of Realtors equated the potential new rules with being forced to accept housing vouchers and, with them, the involvement of the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.


Self-described small-scale landlord Bob Thompson explained his worries. Thompson argued that acceptance of housing vouchers forces property owners to contract with the federal HUD. “Many small property owners are deeply philosophically opposed to being forced with a legal gun to our head to enter into a contract with a government agency and thereby cede control over our property over to that agency,” he added.


Supporters of the rule change argued that the prohibition would result in protections for portions of the community that could use the help. Attorney Nelson Mach pointed to what he characterized as a small fraction of regional property available to participants in voucher programs. “The real problem that you see is the 91 percent of complexes that are refusing to even consider those tenants,” Mach said.


Austin Board of Realtors president Bill Evans argued that the change “could have significant impact on the typical business practices of the residential property managers.” Evans pointed back to agreements with housing authorities that he said would, in part, bring on difficulties in terms of settlement of disputes between tenants and landlords.


Council Member Bill Spelman noted that the concerns over “additional burdens” raised by the Association and ABoR were “very reasonable.”


“I have no doubt that there would be some additional burden on landlords if we were to pass the source of income ordinance,” Spelman continued. “On the other hand, we have to balance that burden against the benefits to people who don’t have a lot of money and need to live some place.”


Should Council members eventually approve a change, it would make it illegal for landlords to turn down applicants based on the fact that they receive housing vouchers. The move, argued Spelman, would put the city on par with a host of other municipalities.


Council members approved the initiation of the code amendment unanimously with Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole gone due to an injury. Soon after, Austin Board of Realtors officials offered a tweet: “We look forward to working with Council and staff as a stakeholder this summer,” it read.

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