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Making the Case for Affordable and Low-Income Housing

A tale of two lawsuits

When they're not yammering about Uber or AirBnB, Austin City Council members like to hold forth on our affordable housing "crisis" (a term found in media coverage more than studies or official documents).

In the face of very little action to match the rhetoric, some residents have taken the issue to court. The widely covered recent case is one in which activist Brian Rodgers sued the city over an affordable housing deal in which, according to the Austin-American Statesman, council members said they unknowingly waived millions of dollars in city fees. The daily's story reports that Rodgers' suit claimed that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings act in its failure to give proper notice to all relevant city departments and officials, or the public, about the terms in a zoning proposal for the Easton Park/Pilot Knob area in Southeast Austin.

Now The Austin Chronicle is reporting that eight tenants of a project-based Section 8 apartment complex (meaning that it receives federal funds to subsidize rent for low-income residents) have filed a suit against the company the complex owner, Fairway Village Apartments LLC, for unlawful mistreatment and negligence.

The suit involves major construction work at the complex, reports the Chronicle, during which residents say they were offered the opportunity to relocate to a hotel or receive a stipend. Many say they never received the offered funds, to be administered by a nonprofit contracted by the city Housing Authority; others were unable to relocate for other reasons.

The Chronicle story goes on to detail the plaintiffs' stories of injuries and service interruptions, especially an issue for elderly and disabled residents, from living in a construction zone, along with travails that resulted from last year's Halloween floods, a poor record of performing necessary maintenance, and charges and eviction notices that might violate their leases.

While the Fairway Apartments suit is just now heading to court, Rodgers has offered the city a settlement on the Pilot Knob case, according to the Austin Monitor. Both cases, however, bring to light the possibility of litigation becoming a regularly deployed weapon in the battle for fair and affordable housing.