Archived Story

Council mixed on Vision 2020 housing forum

Published 10:38am Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Austin City Council is getting a little help in considering a rental ordinance, though some council members at first didn’t know about it.

Vision 2020 will host a rental housing community forum next month to discuss improving affordable housing, but the council had mixed reactions to the news during its work session Tuesday night. While some members like Judy Enright, who brought the idea to Vision 2020, welcomed the forum, Council Member Jeff Austin expressed concerns with the group’s efforts, calling the move “bad form.”

Jeff Austin
Jeff Austin

“They’re stepping on our toes,” Austin said during the meeting. He added he expects the council to get plenty of information when they discuss it at the city council retreat next week.

“I’m not too sure this is something that’s real necessary at this point,” he said Wednesday.

Laura Helle, Vision 2020 Director of Creative Vision, said the idea stemmed from talks she had with Enright. Vision 2020 leaders view housing as an important issue, Helle said, and they’re just trying to do their part.

“It’s hard for me to imagine how having a community discussion about an important issue would be stepping on anyone’s toes,” she said Wednesday. “We plan to have a discussion, and we hope all kinds of community leaders will be there to listen.”

Council Member Steve King said he isn’t opposed to Vision 2020 gathering information, but he would liked to have known about it before they made plans.

“Whatever they want to do, I’m not going to get in the way of information gathering,” he said.

The event, set for 10 a.m. Saturday, March 8, inside Austin Public Library, came to the city’s attention Tuesday afternoon.

Enright said she asked Vision 2020’s Community Pride and Spirit Committee to step forward with a way to help the council break its deadlock on a rental ordinance policy to regulate bad landlords and reform dilapidated property.

“There needs to be something done with the rental properties. I’m not sure what that would be, but we have to address it,” she said Wednesday.

Council members have brought up a rental ordinance as a way to improve city housing over the past year, but the council tabled rental ordinance discussions last month after another round of debate over the city’s current policies.

“We already have ordinances in place to deal with this,” Austin said at the time.

The council came close to enacting a landlord registration policy in 2011 after months of work, but ultimately voted the idea down despite support from the local landlord association.

Resident complaints last summer helped the council move to condemn eight properties in disrepair, as well.

While Enright, King, Mayor Tom Stiehm and Council Member Janet Anderson have previously expressed support for a rental ordinance, Austin and Council Members Roger Boughton and Jeremy Carolan have expressed concerns. Carolan said Tuesday he believes the council should broaden its approach rather than just focus on rental property.

“If we’re going to address housing in Austin, then we should address housing in Austin,” Carolan said.

Stiehm said he wasn’t put off by Vision 2020’s forum and looks forward to the results.

“We keep asking for input, and that looks like input to me,” he said.

Helle has kept the city updated on Vision 2020 developments and spoke to the council last month on each project. She also attended the council’s retreat last week to offer Vision 2020’s perspective on the city’s search for a new city administrator.

Focusing in on Austin’s housing ordinance

What: Vision 2020 community forum to discuss potential Austin rental ordinance
Where: Austin Public Library
When: 10 a.m., Saturday, March 8
Why: The Austin City Council has been split on whether to adopt a rental property ordinance. Vision 2020 is hoping to facilitate community input.

Adam Harringa contributed to this report.

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