My Testimony on Occupancy Reductions

I testified against a proposal to reduce the maximum number of unrelated people who can live in single-family structures (6 to 4 in single-family homes, 3 to 2 in duplexes, and 4-2 to 2-2 in Single-family / garage apartment pairs).  Earlier on this blog, I made an argument about this from an affordability standpoint. But at the City Council hearing, I decided to speak about this from a much more personal perspective.

To see my testimony at City Council on Occupancy Reductions, click here and skip ahead to 50:50.

Or you can read the text below the fold:

The testimony I am about to read is odd testimony for a zoning ordinance, but the zoning ordinance before you is an odd one. The ordinance doesn’t regulate impermeable surfaces, setbacks, or other items related to the structure of a building. It doesn’t outlaw noise or keep lids on trashbins or make sure trashbins come in before the next day.  It tells the residents of our shared city how and with whom they may live.

I lived my 20s in affordable shared housing of the type that Item 86 would make illegal. I was unhealthy, far from home, and far from the family of my birth. I formed a surrogate family of friends. A family which shared no blood and was not recognized by courts, but relied on one another to weather hard times and discover who we were as people. We joined in activities like gardening, like cooking, like playing music. The friends I made remain some of my best friends years and years later, because they know me more intimately than anybody who has not shared a roof with me. It is these relationships, the foundations of my adult life, and the friendships that will last a lifetime, that Item 86 would outlaw. My experience is one that thousands of people across this city share. Who you choose to live with under the same roof is a very intimate decision and the decision to limit those intimate choices is an invasive one.

I’ve been upset as I read and listen to the supporters of Item 86. They speak about “bleeding their neighborhoods dry,” as if myself, my friends, and our choice to live with one another was somehow committing violence unto them just by being their neighbors. They don’t like the new homes that are going up, especially the duplexes we’ve seen and some others, they don’t like the architecture, and they think that if people like me were banned from joining together and living with each other as friends that the market for these houses they don’t like would dry up.  I can’t express how profoundly this wounds me. If you want to limit a style of architecture, make an ordinance that limits a style of architecture. If you want trash off lawns, increase the budget for Code Compliance. Don’t try to ban architecture that you don’t like by banning relationships, by banning friends living together out of choice.

Austin is large enough for many kinds of people. It’s large enough for those who would live on their own, for those who get married, raise children, and it’s large enough for those who would choose to live with a surrogate family of friends. The ordinance before you does not regulate structures. It doesn’t ban duplexes or bad architecture or trash on lawns or late night parties. It regulates relationships, in the hope that, if those relationships aren’t allowed, the housing market would change.  I ask you to allow us to make our own choices about who we make relationships with.

My Testimony on Occupancy Reductions