The City Council convened the occupancy limit public hearing on February 13th at 11:00 p.m., and it lasted until 2:30 a.m. The entire Council worked very hard, as did both sides. Our opposition came mostly from students and young adults arguing that occupancy limit reduction will reduce affordable housing. None of the institutional affordable housing advocates spoke, and only the Austin Board of Realtors appeared from the large real estate lobbies. Its lobbyist urged the Council to delay acting until an 8-week economic study is done. The Council hearing was a lesson in democracy. After several preliminary votes on parts of the ordinance, Council voted 6-1 (Spelman being the 1) to pass it on first reading and to take it up again for 2d and maybe 3d reading on March 20th.
Here are the main points:
- All single-family uses are covered by a reduction from 6 to 4 unrelated adults, including duplexes (despite the Planning Department’s last minute move to exclude them) in single-family zoned areas.
- The coverage area is only the so-called McMansion area, which roughly covers the area within 183, Ben White, Loop 1, Lake Austin, and Loop 360.
- The ordinance expires at the end of 2 years.
- Every existing residential structure (plus pending permits) is “grandfathered” (can be used for 6 unrelated adults) even if they are not being used by 6 today.
- The Planning Department was instructed to do a study on the economic impact of the reduction as it relates to affordable housing.
- Obviously, it is a huge victory for us to get 6 votes on the primary question.
- We lost on the 2-year limit.
- We lost on grandfathering of old structures.
- We won on the prevention of teardowns and replacement with the 6 bedroom monsters – for 2 years.
- We won on the question of not delaying this beyond March 20th.
- We won on the McMansion coverage.
- The working group of the Planning Commission will be the next forum to discuss some of these issues, but the Council did not send the issue back to it. It is simply a source of input to Council, but we must be very much engaged in it. There will also be a discussion at the Community Development Commission about affordability, which we will attend.
- Staff will be writing an ordinance, and we will try to get input into the process through Council members.