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Source of Income ordinance blocked, for now

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 by Gene Davis

A federal judge Tuesday temporarily blocked the implementation of a city ordinance that aims to expand housing options for low-income residents who use housing vouchers.

The so-called Source of Income Ordinance was scheduled to go into effect Jan. 12. However, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks stayed the implementation of the ordinance until he holds a hearing Jan. 26–27 to consider evidence on whether to issue a preliminary injunction against the ordinance. The request for a preliminary injunction comes from the Austin Apartment Association, which filed a lawsuit in December to block the ordinance.

“I need time to decide, because it is a decision that affects both the city and citizens of Austin, Texas,” Sparks said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Sparks repeatedly scolded city attorneys for deciding “at the last minute” to move the temporary injunction hearing from the state to federal court. The city had originally agreed to hold the temporary injunction hearing Monday in state court.

Sparks hypothesized to the courtroom that the city switched courts so the hearing would not happen until after the ordinance was scheduled to go into effect Jan. 12.

“This court has no patience for lawyers who don’t stand by their word,” he said.

Before Sparks temporarily blocked implementation of the ordinance, attorneys for the city and the Austin Apartment Association made their basic cases to the judge. Their statements mirrored those made as the controversial ordinance passed through Council last year.

Austin Apartment Association attorney Craig Enoch said the ordinance would place too much of a burden on landlords. He said landlords who accept housing vouchers must enter into a separate contract with the federal government and adhere to stricter restrictions.

“This (ordinance) is not the only alternative to provide housing to those deserving of housing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Assistant City Attorney Meitra Farhadi said the ordinance would create a level playing field for low-income residents who use housing vouchers to help pay their rent. She said that qualified, responsible Austinites face significant challenges in finding a place to live if they use housing vouchers.

Sparks, who remained noticeably irritated throughout Tuesday’s hearing with the city’s decision to move the temporary injunction hearing to the federal court, consistently challenged Farhadi’s statements.

“(The ordinance) sounds good, but in practice, it’s not as easy as that,” he said in response to Farhadi’s level-playing-field comment.

To prepare for the Jan. 26–27 preliminary injunction hearing, Sparks instructed the Austin Apartment Association to file every specific attack it has against the ordinance and the three best legal authorities backing its attack. He told the city attorneys to then file their responses to those attacks.

Austin City Council unanimously passed the Source of Income Ordinance on Dec. 11.

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