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Council OKs getting rid of some occupancy limits

Friday, June 2, 2023 by Jo Clifton

As expected, City Council on Thursday moved forward with a resolution from District 9 Council Member Zo Qadri directing city management to eliminate occupancy limits related to familial status within the city’s Land Development Code.

The final vote was 9-1, with Council Member Mackenzie Kelly voting no and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison not in attendance.

Council’s action will have no impact on the occupancy limit within the city’s building code that restricts the number of adults who may share a bedroom to three. But this change will allow a group of people to pay considerably lower rent in houses they can afford by sharing.

“At a time when the state Lege is doing the most to police marginalized people’s lives, and a time when rents continue to go up over $200 a month upon renewal, the city of Austin must stop policing people’s relationships they choose in order to afford housing in this city,” Qadri told his colleagues.

Qadri and his staff have hosted eight town hall meetings in the last eight weeks. He told the Austin Monitor that he intends to keep meeting with people about the change, whether they supported it or not. Qadri and his wife are renters, and like many people, they have considered seeking less expensive accommodations as their rent continues to climb.

“The vast majority of those we heard from were young folks, creatives, the people who make the city what it is,” Qadri told the Monitor. He added that he wants to “make sure Austin stays that weird place and not just a place for those who can afford to buy a house.”

The resolution directs the city manager to bring back the appropriate code amendment by Oct. 19. Qadri’s co-sponsors included Council members Vanessa Fuentes, Leslie Pool, José Velásquez and Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis.

Qadri read from an email sent by former Council Member Chris Riley. Riley, who served on Council when the amendment setting occupancy limits for unrelated people was added to the Land Development Code, said it was not Council’s intention to make that addition permanent.

Austin Justice Coalition, Austin Housing Coalition, Austin Cooperative Business Association, Planning Our Communities, Farm & City and AURA also supported the change in the rules. According to a statement released by the groups, “34 percent of Austinites are cost burdened by housing and 15 percent are severely so.” The statement also claimed that “eliminating occupancy limits would do a huge amount to allow Austinites greater flexibility and affordability in their housing choices immediately, without costing the city or taxpayers anything.”

Brian Peña, president of University Democrats, told Council that students are seeing their rents go up every single year, and many are wondering if they should continue to live here.

Kelly proposed an amendment that would have considerably lengthened the timeline for changing that section of the code. As she explained on the City Council Message Board, her proposal would direct the city manager “to conduct a comprehensive study of the areas affected by these proposed changes. Additionally, it considers feedback from the community and would establish a stakeholder working group consisting of members from the impacted areas.”

Her post stated that establishing the stakeholder group would enable the city to get “valuable insights from the communities directly affected by the proposed amendments. This collaborative approach will enable us to make informed decisions that consider the diverse perspectives and unique needs of our residents.”

Monica Guzmán of Go Austin/Vamos Austin told Council she was concerned about what might happen if occupancy limits were eliminated. She said she supported Kelly’s proposal to study the issue.

Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Alison Alter voted in favor of Kelly’s amendment. However, Alter proposed a similar but less prescriptive amendment aimed at getting input from people who feel they may be affected by the change.

Her amendment reads, “The City Council directs the City Manager to also bring forward any additional staff recommendations that are identified during the amendment process, including but not limited to recommendations that can address any unintended consequences. Staff recommendations may also include strategies that are not zoning related, such as policies or practices to ensure appropriate code compliance.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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