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Council approves Tenant Relocation Ordinance

Friday, September 2, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Affordable housing, and the question of how to get it, has dominated the conversation at City Hall these past few years. This year, City Council has also wrestled with the issue of how to protect residents currently in some of the city’s most affordable housing from being suddenly displaced. As of last night, Austin has a means to do that.

City Council voted 9-1 to approve the city’s first Tenant Relocation Ordinance, with Council Member Don Zimmerman voting in opposition and Council Member Ellen Troxclair absent.

“Today is a really important day, and a great day to be part of a progressive City Council that’s looking out for those people that have, too often, too little power in our communities,” said Council Member Greg Casar.

The code amendments will establish notification requirements for anyone seeking demolition permits, who will now have to provide 120-day notice to tenants of multifamily structures with 12 or more units and 270-day notice to residents of mobile home parks when applying for rezoning, change of use or site-plan approvals. The ordinance also establishes a framework for a city tenant relocation assistance fund for income-eligible tenants. Those seeking planned unit development zoning where people are displaced and those seeking “discretionary approvals” that cause displacement will have to pay into the fund, or assist income-eligible tenants with relocation, unless waived by Council.

The city has not yet established funding for the estimated $1.6 million the program will cost in its first year. That money is not yet part of the current budget but is one of many proposed spending items on the city’s “budget concept menu” yet to be approved by City Council. That cost – and the lack of certainty about where the money would come from – didn’t sit well with Zimmerman.

“The Council seems to be congratulating itself for spending $1.6 million that we don’t have to spend,” said Zimmerman. “It’s not reality.”

In general, the ordinance found support from both tenants and real estate organizations, although the business interests did make it clear that all of the details had yet to be worked out. Paul Cauduro, who is with the Austin Apartment Association, made it clear that the association would remain involved through the rule-making process to help make it “easier to implement and clearer for the industry.”

“It does change the ballgame a little bit, but we are prepared to deal with it, and work through the issues as best we can,” said Cauduro. “We are a little uncomfortable knowing this has passed without fees being known.”

In addition to funding and fees, Council promised to work out some of the details Council Member Sheri Gallo attempted to make clear through two amendments. Her amendments, she explained, were intended to establish that the ordinance would help “responsible tenants who are fulfilling the requirements of their lease, such as being current on the rent and not being in violation of the lease.”

Those amendments made her fellow Council members uneasy, however. In the end, they failed in votes of 2-8, with Gallo and Zimmerman casting votes of support.

“I think there could be some unintended consequences of both,” said Casar, whose concerns were echoed by several of his peers.

Casar offered that there could be time to work out the details that honored the intent of Gallo’s amendments during the establishment of program guidelines.

Photo by Elvert Barnes made available through a Creative Commons license.

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