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In wake of Rosemont snafu, county updates housing bylaws

Thursday, October 7, 2021 by Seth Smalley

On Oct. 5, the Travis County Commissioners Court approved changes to the bylaws of the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation. The amendments came in the wake of a massive blunder at the Rosemont apartment complex in South Austin – which is managed by the SHFC – where scores of tenants were given eviction notices and forced to immediately vacate their homes to allow for repairs.

Travis County commissioners, who are responsible for governing the affairs of the SHFC, voted unanimously to approve the following additions to the bylaws:

  • The SHFC board of directors will now consist of seven people, two of whom must be current or former tenants of SHFC-owned properties.
  • The SHFC is required to adopt an updated tenants bill of rights, in accord with rules and regulations set by various departments including the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a new lease addendum created by the city.
  • The tenants bill of rights includes the right to return to one’s unit if any repair requires relocation (and for SHFC to pay any relocation fees); a measure to keep property suitable for occupancy and in good repair; and a measure to follow fair housing laws and grant tenant modification requests.
  • Summary reports of SHFC tenant-needs surveys will now be public information, sent to the SHFC board as well as the Commissioners Court.
  • The SHFC is prohibited from interfering with tenants’ right to organize or participating in tenants associations.

Commissioner Brigid Shea suggested an additional item to include safe and secure mailboxes.

“It’s just unacceptable that they don’t have functioning mailboxes and that their mail is being stolen or returned,” Shea said.

Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion said, “I want to make sure that people understand that this is not a one-off. We plan to completely look at all of the housing that is within our portfolio and make sure that we are meeting with and talking to folks regularly.”

Gabby Garcia, an organizer with BASTA – one of the groups advocating for the Rosemont tenants – thanked commissioners for updating the bylaws, but cautioned the court from thinking of the updates as a housing panacea. “They also know that these bylaws are not the cure-all to everything and the problems on the ground are going to continue … but it is symbolic that the county is serious about making sure that this doesn’t happen again, and it’s very meaningful to tenants that know their fight is going to result in something much bigger.”

Several Rosemont residents called in to express their gratitude for the new bylaws and to reiterate the difficulties they’d experienced as a result of their forced relocation.

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