Tuesday, May 24, 2016 by Vicky Garza

Tenant relocation assistance program moves forward

In recognition of urgent community need, the Planning Commission’s Committee on Codes and Ordinances voted unanimously to push forward with a proposed tenant relocation assistance program, despite the lack of a draft ordinance at the meeting.

As requested by City Council in April, the reworked ordinance adds mobile home residents to the list of tenants who would qualify for relocation assistance if they become displaced by redevelopment or renovations. On Tuesday, members of the committee weighed in on the latest proposal.

Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza said that she “had every intention to postpone” the item initially but changed her mind after hearing the stories of those who attended the meeting. Commissioners Patricia Seeger and James Schissler expressed that they felt uncomfortable without a draft of the ordinance to review; however, they both voted alongside Zaragoza to send it to the full Planning Commission without a recommendation, with the understanding that the staff recommendations they heard were acceptable.

Lauren Avioli, a planner in the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, presented the staff’s recommendations regarding a tenant relocation program to the standing-room-only crowd in the small space where the meeting was held.

Currently, staff recommends that the policy apply to developments that require any sort of demolition of an existing multifamily building or mobile home park in which the work would displace five or more units. Developers that meet these requirements would have to provide tenants with a 120-day notice and a packet that includes information about relocation assistance and tenant rights before obtaining a demolition permit or changing the use of an existing mobile home community.

Applicants seeking Planned Unit Development zoning or who want to change the use of a mobile home community may be required to pay a fee into a tenant relocation fund, the amount of which would be set by an impact study.

Staff also recommends that the city create a fund of its own to assist low-income tenants with the displacement that occurs due to demolition and redevelopment of multifamily sites in which no discretionary approval is sought.

Finally, staff recommends enforcing the program by waiting to issue permits until notice has been provided and the relocation fee has been paid, when applicable.

Assistant City Attorney Brent Lloyd said that they are still working out some details of the ordinance, such as state law considerations, but could have a draft completed by next week to share with commissioners.

At the meeting, residents also had the opportunity to speak on the ordinance.

Eight displaced tenants shared their stories of being threatened, being thrown out even though they still had leases, having to move far from work and from their children’s schools and having to take out high-interest loans to secure another place to live.

Most were given between one to two months’ notice, and many were from the former Lakeview apartment complex on Riverside Drive, which was replaced by the luxury Lakeshore Pearl Apartments.

One of those residents, Robin Morgan, who was at the meeting with two of her three children, said she also had short notice to find a new place for her family to live and that she’d like to see developers be required to provide some kind of help, instead of throwing these families into the streets.

“It baffles me how they can do this to people; turn their backs and not even care,” said Morgan.

Juliana Gonzales, director of the Austin Tenants’ Council, urged the committee not to delay this ordinance.

“I understand there are some very cumbersome parts of this process, but I want to keep moving forward because people are still getting these notices,” said Gonzales.

Their testimony was heard by committee members.

“I’m having a hard time understanding how a developer can buy a property like Lakeview and displace all the residents and not be responsible,” said Seeger. “I understand why we need to get this moving.”

The ordinance is on the agenda for the May 24 meeting, but despite the urgency understood by the committee, a request for postponement to the commission’s June 14 meeting is also on the agenda.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department: This city department provides housing and community development services for Austinites. To that end, they administer programs, provide grant services, and work with non-profit and agencies to provide housing for eligible residents. The department also provides small business development services.

CoA Planning Commission Codes & Ordinances Committee: A sub-committee charged with reviewing land use code amendments.

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