City considers requiring developers to help move tenants they displace

Former Lakeview Apartments site
Former Lakeview Apartments site (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austin’s population continues to explode, tenants displaced in the process often have few options. Right now, there is no policy in place to help in the transition from one home to another. Redevelopment of several multi-properties have left elderly, low income and disabled Austinites struggling to find a new place, but KXAN learned city council members are looking to change that.

Robin Wilkins’ family was one of around 100 displaced in September when Lakeview Apartments became a casualty of Austin’s growth. Wilkens welcomed us into her new apartment, saying, “This is my home. For now.”

For now. They’re words Wilkens has learned to rely on the in the face of an uncertain future, saying her rent doubled with the move. She considers herself one of the lucky ones, who didn’t have to leave Austin all together. She’s getting by, but just barely, as she told the Housing and Community Development Committee on Wednesday.

“Day-to-day expenses seem to be out of reach now because I’m having to put everything toward my rent,” Wilkins told council members, speaking at the meeting.

City leaders are considering making it a requirement for developers to help move the tenants they displace.

“That’s what my argument is, if you’ve got the money to do this then you more than have enough money to house these people,” Wilkens said of developers.

Council Member Sheri Gallo said with discussions like this, the question is who’s going to pay for it.

“My concern is, I think we need to be really careful if we’re asking a multi-family owner to begin to pay the cost of this program because as we add additional regulation and cost to their process, quite often what we see is we see those fees and those costs added onto the rent,” Gallo said, further threatening affordability.

Gallo said if this is what constituents want, the city has the option to fund it and bring the program into budget conversations.

Wilkens said she’ll continue to push for a change in the process.

“There’s a lot of people out there that are going to be facing the same problem that I’m facing. And I want it to be easier for them,” she said.

Thursday, council will consider directing the city manager to also include mobile home residents as part of the proposed Tenant Relocation Program.

In a presentation to the Housing and Community Development Committee, city staff put together policy recommendations that included the following:

If proposed work will result in displacement, property owner/developer must submit a Relocation Plan to the City, including:

  • Expectations and requirements for relocation
  • Info on tenant households (number, address, household size)
  • Info on project and anticipated timeline

Once Relocation Plan submitted, property owner/developer must deliver the following to all affected tenants:

  • Tenant Information Packets
    • Information on project and anticipated timeline
    • Descriptions and contact information for accessing available relocation assistance and other community programs/services, including information on staying in the school district
    • Claim forms for relocation and moving assistance
  • Notice of Intent – for permanent displacement – 180 days
  • Notice to Vacate – for permanent & temporary displacement – issued 30-90 days before tenants must vacate (pending review by law department)

A third-party organization would be contracted with to provide the following services to affected tenants:

  • Organize and conduct Tenant Relocation Meeting to explain Tenant Information Packets and answer questions. Property owner/manager would also be on-site to answer questions.
  • Housing locator services to help income-eligible tenants find new homes that meet their needs
  • Act as fiscal agent for disbursement of relocation and moving assistance payments for income-eligible tenants
  • Connect tenants to other community programs helpful to them

Financial Relocation and Moving Assistance for income-eligible tenants:

  • Income eligibility threshold: at or below 70% of median family income (MFI) ($54,460 for a family of four)
  • For projects accessing developer incentives, relocation assistance for eligible tenants could be funded by the applicant.
  • Staff recommends that the City conduct an impact study to assess costs to the community resulting from redevelopment of occupied multifamily properties before requiring property owners/developers to pay for relocation assistance for by right development. This analysis would be used to calculate the amount of relocation assistance property owners/ developers could be required to pay.

The full presentation can be found here. 

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