Austin affordable housing policies scrapped following lawsuit

Judge nullified upzoning ordinances because of inadequate notice to homeowners

Court Ruling Kills Austin Affordable Housing Policies

Three potential answers to Austin’s affordable housing shortage have been scrapped.

A Travis County district judge ruled on Friday that the city violated state law in approving three housing policies last year, KUT reported. The policies allowed developers to build higher along busy roadways, and to build residential on land zoned for commercial use, in exchange for including some low-income housing. 

The city failed to adequately notify property owners about the potential increase of construction near their homes, Judge Jessica Mangrum ruled, in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of homeowners. The court ordered the city to discard the policies, although no fines were imposed.

“We hope, going forward, that the City finally learns from this embarrassing experience, does the right thing, and respects the interests and legal rights of Austin homeowners,” said Doug Becker, an attorney representing the homeowners.

The judge’s ruling upheld a housing policy from 2019, which permits developers to bypass certain building rules if half of the constructed units are designated for low-income residents. The judge noted that the homeowners failed to challenge that policy within the legal timeframe.

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A future hearing will determine whether the city is liable for the homeowners’ legal fees, which cost at least $150,000.

City attorney Anne Morgan was pleased that the judge didn’t issue requested sanctions. Austin will comply with the ruling, she said.

The dispute revolves around the city’s obligation to provide written notice to homeowners when altering land-use rules. The city’s efforts to modify zoning regulations in recent years have faced opposition from homeowners who argue that the city neglected their right to protest changes.

The ruling raises questions about ongoing construction projects initiated under the contested policies, leaving developers and Austin officials to grapple with the implications of the court’s decision.

—Quinn Donoghue 

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