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Could College Station's ROO discriminate against low-income families and students?

College Station generic
Posted at 3:31 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 16:31:12-05

COLLEGE STATION, TX — On Jan 28., the College Station City Council discussed proposals to regulate the number of unrelated occupants living together.

Dubbed the Restricted Occupancy Ordinance (ROO), the meeting did not adjourn with a resolution. Presented with three alternatives to said ordinance, the council did not give direction to any of the following proposals:

  • Require more on-site parking
  • Fine for common code violations (ex. trash collection)
  • Revoke registration permits from the owner of the offending property

The College Station City Council has asked city staff to draft ROO, to allow single-family subdivisions the option to ask for an overlay zoning; that would restrict home occupancy, to no more than two unrelated persons in said residence.

If adopted, ROO would allow property owners these additional occupancy restrictions within their subdivision boundaries. However, this proposed overlay would not create additional occupancy restrictions, automatically, for all of College Station.

To continue this conversation, virtual meetings will be held on the following dates via Zoom. Registration will not be required to join. Furthermore, an online poll will go live Monday, Feb 8. and will close Friday, Feb 26.

Feb 8: Real estate, investor, and development community
Feb 16: Neighborhood groups and associations
Feb 22: Students

All three meetings will be open to the public, and you may choose to attend one or more. They will also contain identical content, however, will be targeted with the specific audiences listed above.

During said meetings, participants will be encouraged to share their input on ROO, what percentage of property owners should be on board first, and what an appropriate legacy clause should look like for this ordinance.

The public input collected, will be consolidated and presented to the city council in March.

25 News KRHD reached out to the Texas A&M Department Head of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, Professor Shannon Van Zandt, and received the following statement:

"As I understand it, the City of College Station is accepting input on the possibility of allowing neighborhoods to 'opt-in' to an overlay ordinance that restricts the number of unrelated occupants to two. The purpose of the ordinance would be effectively to severely limit students from living in neighborhoods that opted into the ordinance. In doing so, it has the potential to severely limit not just student housing, but also affordable housing for more than just the student population." Professor Zandt shared in part to KRHD.

"I would not expect neighborhoods with moderate-to-high proportions of renter-occupied single-family housing to opt-in to such an ordinance, because owners of rental properties will be opposed, and owner-occupants would be limited in their ability to convert homes to rentals should they not sell. But in neighborhoods with low proportions of renters, this ordinance might be appealing as a way to maintain neighborhood stability. Many may assume that renter-occupancy reduces their property values. I don't believe the research supports that assertion, however. My professional opinion as an urban planner and affordable housing advocate is that such an ordinance is discriminatory and has the potential for disparate impacts on low-income households, including but not limited to students. And frankly, we should be concerned about affordability for both non-student households and student households. College Station is becoming increasingly unaffordable." Professor Zandt expressed in her statement.

Reflecting on code violations from renters, particularly, how half of the open and active cases are evenly split between owner-occupied and rental housing, Professor Zandt stated how "the motivation for such an ordinance must be somewhere else"

For example, last year, code enforcement investigated 27 complaints of more than four unrelated people living together within College Station. However, 26 did not result in filing a complaint.

Analyzing this data, Professor Zandt encourages College Station residents to, "press the Council on what problem it [ROO] is really meant to solve and ask for the data that supports the concern-because this data does not. My assessment is that the potential costs far outweigh the potential benefits."

Finally, reflecting on the three alternatives presented on Jan 28., Professor Zandt stated, "I think all three are preferable to the overlay ordinance and are much more likely to be effective in addressing the code violations of both owner-occupants and renter-occupants."

As of Feb 2., the proposed ROO ordinance has not been adopted, and the draft proposal is subject to change.

If you have additional questions about the upcoming public Zoom meetings, you are encouraged to contact Long Range Planning Administrator, Alyssa Halle-Schramm, at aschramm@cstx.gov or 979.764.3570.