City council makes final decision to reduce house and duplex occupancy limits


Helen Fernandez

Austin City Council voted to reduce the number of unrelated adults who can live together in a single-family dwelling, on Thursday afternoon. Councilman Bill Spelman believes that the stealth dorm ordinance will negatively affect lower-income individuals.

Alyssa Mahoney

Austin City Council gave final approval to a city code amendment reducing the number of unrelated adults who can live together in a single-family dwelling from six to four, in a 6-1 vote on Thursday.

Without additional public comment, the council heard both the second and third readings required to pass the amendment, which will go into effect for two years, beginning in 10 days, according to the Austin-American Statesman. The ordinance will affect greater central Austin in the areas from U.S. 183 to William Cannon Drive. The city code amendment contains a grandfather provision, so those who currently reside in a single-family house will not be affected by the amendment.

Councilman Bill Spelman, who is also a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said that although the code change is intended to disincentivize developers from building high-occupancy dwellings, the code change will affect students more than developers.

“[What] concerns me the most is that any restrictions we put on people being able to live together in single-family houses is going to put the biggest restrictions on students, not the people who are building the stealth dorms,” Spelman said.

According to Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, the council has not sufficiently addressed the concerns of neighborhood associations or University students.

“We have not really heard enough with the students involved,” Cole said. “I think we need to reach out to our university students not only at UT but throughout the city in our other colleges and universities more and get their input.”

Spelman, who voted against the measure, said the ordinance will negatively affect lower-income individuals, including those who have not come forward to give their input because they are undocumented immigrants.

“They just don’t have very much money and have decided to double and quadruple up to share the cost in single-family houses because it’s the only way that they can live,” Spelman said.

Councilman Chris Riley said he does not think the amendment fixes an underlying issue of affordability.

“It’s going to affect those who would like to live in high-occupancy [houses], and it’s going to continue to affect the neighborhoods in central Austin because we’re going to continue to see those development pressures manifested in some other way,” Riley said.