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Council may amend source-of-income ordinance

Thursday, December 11, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members, set to finalize an ordinance that would ban housing discrimination based on one’s source of income, will consider a language change that would bring their version of the rule in line with state and federal codes.

Council Member Laura Morrison raised the issue at Tuesday’s work session. “There is a state exemption that aligns with a federal exemption that may be a bit narrower than the one that was adopted, and … it may be beneficial to have consistency in our exemptions,” Morrison told her colleagues.

Morrison added that she was “sort of agnostic” about the potential change, noted that there “are good reasons to adopt what we already have” and said she wouldn’t necessarily offer an amendment — though she would support one if it was offered — that would put it in place. She said that she presented the information so she and her colleagues could understand “the options [they] have on the table.”

Council Member Bill Spelman took the opportunity offered by Morrison. “If we were to [make the change] … then instead of five rental dwellings somehow defined, we would get three single-family residences at any one time?” he wondered.

“I would be happy to bring that forward,” Spelman said.

If approved, the item would keep landlords from citing one’s source of income as a reason not to rent a unit to a prospective tenant. This, argue some advocates, would make housing more accessible to populations who depend on vouchers to obtain shelter.

Stakeholders have raised concerns over what some consider overly onerous processes that they say surround voucher program participation. In response, Council members did initially offer an exemption to the rules for landlords of structures that contained five or fewer units. However, after receiving a letter from HousingWorks Austin’s Mandy DeMayo, one that suggested he and his colleagues roll back that exemption, Council Member Mike Martinez changed the exemption to landlords who own, directly or indirectly, more than four rental units.

Morrison reported that, when consulted about the potential alignment of the city’s rules with those of the state and federal governments, DeMayo said, “Consistency among federal, state and local language is certainly beneficial” and that “it may be more efficient from the perspective of enforcement.”

That version of the ordinance is up for final approval Thursday.

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