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Committee considers expanding proposed tenant relocation policy

Monday, April 18, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though the city of Austin currently has no formal policy for helping displaced tenants, change is on the way. And, after a meeting of the Housing and Community Development Committee, it looks like that policy could be expanded to offer protections to mobile home residents as well.

The committee heard an update on a proposed tenant relocation policy, which was approved in a November resolution, at its most recent meeting.

Lauren Avioli, who is a planner with the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development office, presented the city’s recommendations to the committee.

Though the resolution did not include mobile home parks, that addition is under consideration after public feedback, particularly from the Community Development Commission, that recommended the parks be included. Recently, situations like the plight of Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park have pushed the issue to the forefront.

Committee members passed a recommendation that the city manager include mobile homes in the ordinance or come up with an alternative to address mobile home community displacement in a vote of 3-1, with Council Member Sheri Gallo voting in opposition.

Council Member Greg Casar, who sponsored the original resolution, explained that the parks “present a challenge for even more exploitation than in structures (such as apartment buildings).”

“It definitely is an issue across our city,” said Casar. “If the community is ready to pick that one up, too, I’m very excited to work on it.”

Gallo said she was uncomfortable voting for the mobile home recommendation because it had not yet been formally subjected to a stakeholder process, although the recommendation came out of that process. “I don’t think it’s very transparent,” said Gallo.

In her presentation, Avioli explained that displacement can have destabilizing effects on the city’s most vulnerable residents, such as elderly, low-income or disabled residents. Since City Council passed the resolution, the city has worked with tenant advocates, members of the development community, and school districts, as well as across several city departments, in an effort to figure out just how such a policy might work. At the moment, the specifics remain tentative as city attorneys work out all of the details.

Right now, the idea is to define types of displacement as permanent, temporary or emergency. The rules would apply to dwellings with five or more rental units. In order to track where the policy might apply, staff is recommending that site plan approvals and demolition permits be tracked and evaluated to see if there are currently multifamily buildings on the land and, if so, to determine whether the plans would result in the displacement of tenants.

If displacement would occur, the applicant would be required to submit a “relocation plan” that would include information on current tenants, the project’s timeline and relocation requirements. The developer (or property owner) would then be required to communicate the relocation plan to the tenants, giving them either a “notice of intent” 180 days in advance for permanent displacement or a “notice to vacate” for permanent and temporary displacement 30 to 90 days prior to vacation.

Staff is also recommending financial assistance for income-eligible households that earn at or below 70 percent of median family income. That assistance would help with moving expenses and relocation. Right now, that money could come from developers, if they are using any of the city’s development incentives and, if Council chooses, even if they are not.

City staff is recommending that an impact study be conducted to calculate how much developers or owners should pay for relocation assistance, based on the community cost of redeveloping already-occupied multifamily buildings.

In the interim, before an impact study is complete, staff recommends that the city fund relocation assistance. Avioli estimated that occupants of a two-bedroom unit could receive up to $3,378 in relocation assistance, or $4,504 if one of the household members is elderly, disabled or a child.

Though the costs of the program have yet to be firmly established, staff does anticipate city costs associated with the impact study, administration of the program, contracting with a third-party to provide the relocation assistance, the relocation assistance itself and changes to the AMANDA system (which keeps track of permitting and code violations for properties) that will enable the city to recognize developments that could displace tenants.

Paul Cauduro, who is with the Austin Apartment Association, expressed some concern that the organization had not had a chance to discuss the ordinance after it had been more developed. Gallo shared those concerns and said that she hoped there would be adequate time to review the draft ordinance before it entered the boards and commissions process.

Gallo expressed concern about “adding burden” to the development process in terms of cost and time, and the impact that might ultimately have on tenants.

“As we talk about the cost of housing in Austin for all income levels of our community, I think we always have to recognize the consequences when we add more and more fees and add to the administrative bureaucracy of private property owners for a process when they renovate, remodel or develop,” said Gallo. “Those costs will be passed on to tenants.”

Gallo said she was in favor of funding through incentives but thought relocation should otherwise be city-funded.

Allyson Boney Evans, who co-authored a report that helped lead to the ordinance currently under consideration, urged the committee to “put this protection in place for the citizens of Austin.”

“I think this ordinance would be a small step in protecting and preserving the Austin that we all love – one that protects all of its citizens,” said Evans.

Although a draft of the policy was set to go before the Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances subcommittee this week, city legal is still working out the details of the ordinance and has recommended that more details of implementation be sorted out before that happens.

Photo by Erich Ferdinand made available through a Creative Commons license.

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