City housing ordinance wins partial victories in court, state capitol


The city of Austin won two small victories Tuesday in its fight against a state bill and a lawsuit that aimed to strike down a recently passed housing ordinance.

The so-called source-of-income ordinance would require landlords to accept low-income applicants who plan to pay part of their rent with a federally funded housing voucher if they meet all tenancy criteria.

Austin is the only Texas city known to have such an ordinance. The Austin Apartment Association sued the city after the ordinance won City Council approval last December.

In the latest twist in the legal proceedings, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a temporary injunction it had granted March 6.

Lawyer Fred Fuchs, who is representing four voucher holders, said the court’s initial injunction was probably the product of an “abundance of caution.” The court vacated the injunction after he and the city submitted filings against it, Fuchs said.

The city’s fair housing office will begin accepting complaints Wednesday from voucher holders who believe they have been discriminated against because they are participants in the Section 8 program.

The Austin Apartment Association — which has argued the city ordinance makes a burdensome and voluntary federal program mandatory — said in a statement it was evaluating its options and “remains committed to providing quality affordable housing to our community in a manner that does not penalize the very people whose investments are providing that housing.”

Lawyer Craig Enoch, who is representing the association, emphasized that a court hasn’t fully heard the case to decide whether to uphold or invalidate the city’s ordinance. The association can still seek an injunction, he said.

At the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, a senate committee voted to amend SB 267 — which would prohibit cities from adopting source-of-income ordinances — so that the bill wouldn’t apply to Austin. The committee voted 8-1 to send the amended bill to the full Senate.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, exempts ordinances that were passed before the start of 2015.

“Though 267 may appear to be a statewide bill on its face, it’s clear the bill is specifically targeted,” Watson said of the proposal filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

Perry insisted at a hearing last week that his bill was not about Austin, but about the larger issue of private property rights. At that hearing, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and a long line of speakers testified against the proposal.

John Henneberger, co-director of Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, said the amendment improves the bill but that he’s still against it.

“It takes away the authority of cities — besides Austin — to look in the future and decide if they need to take action to protect people based on source of income,” Henneberger said.

This is the second time the city’s ordinance went into effect. After a lower court declined to issue an injunction on Feb. 27, the ordinance was in effect for about a week. During that time, the city did not receive any housing discrimination complaints based on source of income.


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