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Council moves to protect tenants from displacement

Friday, November 13, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Following the recent controversy surrounding a Riverside Drive apartment complex demolition permit that displaced around 100 low-income families, City Council has taken a step toward establishing new rules to assist tenants in similar situations in the future.

Council approved a resolution Thursday directing city staff to draft an ordinance that would establish “tenant relocation assistance requirements” for developers that intend to demolish multifamily properties that would result in the displacement of current tenants.

The measure passed on a 10-1 vote, with Council Member Don Zimmerman dissenting.

“This has become a citywide issue … particularly in the East and South Austin districts,” said Council Member Pio Renteria, the resolution’s sponsor. “Low-income homes are becoming available to the market, and people are buying them and dislocating the low-income people.”

Renteria was referring to cases, like that of the Lakeview complex on Riverside, in which the requirements for low-income housing developments expire, the often-valuable properties on which they sit go on the real estate market and developers purchase them with intent to replace them with more expensive apartment complexes.

Council requested that the draft ordinance require developers to provide tenants at least six months’ notice of a final move-out date, give them flexible move-out dates within that period, provide relocation stipends to tenants who meet certain income and other requirements, provide a “reasonable” waiting period before demolishing a property after receiving a demolition permit and more.

Renteria added a clause directing city staff to “explore the viability” of including temporary relocation assistance requirements for cases in which tenants are displaced because a landlord needs to bring a building up to city code, including in emergency or hazardous situations.

Council also set a 120-day timeline for stakeholders to vet the proposed rules before they go to the Council Housing and Community Development Committee for a recommendation. The stakeholder process will include two public meetings to solicit input from tenants and the development community and a public hearing before the Planning Commission.

Staff also has 180 days to come up with a plan for implementing and enforcing the new rules.

Zilker neighborhood resident David King urged Council to consider the issue an emergency and speed up the timeline.

Council Member Leslie Pool concurred. “I can’t overlook the fact that it’s possible that the changes to the shoreline might not have happened if we had been a little bit more timely in our adoption of this proposal,” she said, appearing to refer to the Lakeview case.

Council Member Sheri Gallo disagreed, however, arguing that Council should provide enough time for stakeholders to thoroughly vet the rules before adopting them.

Ultimately, Council made no changes to the proposed timeline.

Mayor Steve Adler said that the Austin Board of Realtors supports the resolution. Gallo said that she believes the Austin Apartment Association supports the resolution as well, but that “they’re supportive of also being able to have the time to be involved with this process to make sure it’s a process and a system that works.”

Zimmerman said that he would vote against the resolution on the grounds that it is not fair to demand a six-month move-out notice requirement and that the provision relating to a demolition waiting period is too “subjective.”

Council Member Greg Casar responded. “We do have standards for when and how we issue demolition permits,” he said. “We check for erosion, we check on trees – but we don’t check on whether there’s people whose homes this is, and I think that’s the gist of this resolution.”

Zimmerman shot back. “I greatly appreciate the fact that people are now given the same respect as trees – I think that’s a step in the right direction,” he said, before voting against the resolution.

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