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Council looking at help for displaced tenants

Thursday, August 18, 2016 by Jo Clifton

City Council will consider an ordinance today affecting tenants who are forced to move out of properties slated for demolition or redevelopment. Under the proposed ordinance, an owner of a multifamily complex with five or more units would have to notify tenants at least 120 days before they were required to move, and the owner of a mobile home park would have to give notice 270 days beforehand.

In addition, Council will have a chance to create a program to give financial assistance to some low-income tenants who are displaced from their apartments and mobile homes because of redevelopment. Staff is requesting $1.55 million for the project’s initial funding.

The ordinance also provides for staff to draw up guidelines directing some developers – those who are seeking zoning changes or variances on redeveloped properties – to help fund the program to assist the affected families.

Although other cities around the country have had tenant relocation assistance programs for some time, there was little momentum for such a program in Austin until Council approved resolutions in November 2015 and April 2016 directing staff to develop an ordinance.

The ordinance is coming back with a public hearing today. Council Member Pio Renteria, who was one of the sponsors of the resolution, asked that the public hearing be set at 6 p.m.

Renteria said in a written statement Wednesday, “In Austin, some developers have profited from redevelopment without providing assistance for the families they have displaced. Our community has had to pick up the tab and pick up the pieces of displacement for too long. This resolution is a major step forward in making sure that displaced Austin families experience the security, stability, and dignity everyone deserves.”

The redevelopment of the Lakeview Apartments property on South Lakeshore Boulevard – to make way for tech company Oracle – illustrates some of the problems faced by low-income tenants when a developer decides there is a better use for a property. Tenants were displaced last September with very little notice, and the city had no mechanism for even tracking what the tenants were told about how much time they might have to find a new place to live.

As the Austin Monitor reported in January, Council Member Greg Casar said, “What happened at Lakeview absolutely ignited the conversation about having a tenants rights and tenants relocation ordinance in Austin.” Casar was a co-sponsor of the measure that directed staff to come up with a proposal.

Austinites may also remember the Wood Ridge Apartments, which were in such dilapidated condition that the city Code Department finally took action to demand renovation. That action, which resulted in the displacement of those residents and the eventual closure of the complex, is just one example of how low-income tenants are displaced.

In other instances, property owners decide to redevelop their housing units, giving the residents little time to find new homes. This situation is particularly difficult for low-income tenants.

Based on information on displacement due to demolition or redevelopment collected by the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department and a study done by the University of Texas School of Law, staff is recommending assistance for 200 income-eligible families during the first year of operation.

Rebecca Giello, assistant director of NHCD, told the Monitor that the Wood Ridge situation required some relocation assistance, but there have been many other dislocations of low-income tenants that have not made the news. Council’s Housing Committee has been working on the issue for some time, she noted.

Lauren Avioli, a planner with NHCD, told Council on Tuesday that her department would be recommending housing location assistance as well as funding to help families from 200 households during the first year to find new homes. She explained that they plan to hire a third-party contractor to help with the relocation services.

In response to questions from Council Member Sheri Gallo, Giello said that her department has had multiple meetings with low-income tenants and others interested in the ordinance. She said that they would be having more meetings to work on the details of the program once Council approves the ordinance. After that, they will come back to Council for more approvals.

Photo by Nyttend made available through a Creative Commons license.

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