Audit: Safety risks are not fully considered in Austin demolitions

Demolition site where a new home is being built. (KXAN Photo/Juan Salinas)
Demolition site where a new home is being built. (KXAN Photo/Juan Salinas)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Buildings being torn down to make way for new ones–it’s happening all across Austin. A newly released city audit shows safety risks involved aren’t all being taken into consideration.

Currently, the areas around South Lamar Boulevard and east Austin have the most open demolition permits for single family homes.

The audit found some properties may not even be tested for asbestos as state law requires. Another concern is the presence of lead paint. The audit states there does not appear to be any process in place to determine whether a building has lead when the city is reviewing a demolition permit application.

Other findings include the need for additional safety measures on site, like closing off a sidewalk, may not be identified before a demolition happens. And there’s no process in place to verify if a contractor is licensed. San Antonio requires demolition contractors to have a city license.

R.C. Beall, owner of Texas Coffee Traders, has been in east Austin almost 20 years. In that time, like anyone in that part of town, he’s seen a lot of changes.

“It’s not about good or bad development, it’s about how it’s happening. And really paying attention to it being done well,” he said.

His business is surrounded by demolition sites.

“The wind blows right across us,” Beall said. “You don’t know what you’re breathing. You don’t know what’s in the demolition part.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo says it’s time for the city to look at policies that would require a higher level of oversight for demolitions. One example is exploring the legalities of requiring single family homes to also have an asbestos check. Right now, the state only requires testing for commercial and multi-family buildings.

Map of Demolition Permits by Zip Code

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