Austin City Council has voted to sue the state of Texas over a law that blocks the city from enforcing an anti-discrimination housing ordinance.
“I believe that everyone deserves the freedom to be able to search for housing without discrimination," Council Member Greg Casar, who wrote the measure, said Thursday. "We know that here in Austin, we have a long way to go."
The federal Housing Choice Voucher Program helps low-income families with housing costs. In 2014, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance to block landlords from discriminating based on a person’s source of income – in other words, refusing to rent to someone who uses these vouchers.
But a year later, state lawmakers passed a law that blocked Austin’s efforts.
Casar’s resolution cites a 2012 audit by the Austin Tenants Council, which found that only 6 percent of apartment units surveyed accepted vouchers. Most of the ones that would were concentrated in low-income areas.
Some people who spoke against a lawsuit questioned the accuracy of those statistics and whether an anti-discrimination ordinance would truly have an impact.
Paul Cauduro, director of government relations with the Austin Apartment Association, told council members that some landlords are hesitant to accept vouchers because they create a "three-way lease agreement between the property owner, the tenant [and] the housing authority.”
“It’s problematic in that regard," he said. "There’s repetitive and redundant inspection programs. There’s the fact that this is not a fully funded program at the federal level, so these vouchers could go away at any time.”
Cauduro said there are other ways to try and address the issue, like increased outreach to landlords, but Austin Mayor Steve Adler said if the city is going to participate in the federal voucher program, it has to do everything it can to make it a success – even if that means suing.
“I truly do believe in local control, and I think that is an issue with us and the state,” he said. “I think that just as the state protects its interests, I think on some level the city should.”
Casar said it’s unclear how much the lawsuit will cost the city, but council can’t put a price tag on enforcing the federal Civil Rights Act of 1968, which calls for fair housing practices.