AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Austin is considering a crackdown on so-called "stealth dorms" to cap at four the number of unrelated people who can live in single-family homes or duplexes.
The Austin American Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/1eJNrSR ) that the city council will hold a public hearing Thursday on a proposal to lower the current cap from six to four — and may even vote on the issue during the same meeting.
Such a move is supported by some residents of neighborhoods near the University of Texas' flagship campus, who complain that developers have replaced dozens of small houses with larger ones that can accommodate several roommates.
Stealth dorms sometimes cause problems like overflowing garbage cans, noise and clogged street parking. And more residents who get fed up and move have their homes bought up for new, dorm-style housing.
"Very soon nearby neighbors want to sell their home and get out," said Sebastian Wren, who bought a home in the Northfield neighborhood north of campus 15 years ago and has watched the area change. "The same builder is willing to buy and put another (stealth dorm) there, so you get de facto apartment complexes in the middle of residential streets."
More than 850,000 people live in Austin, and the city gains another 100 or so each month — creating a tug-of-war between urban planners' desire to more densely pack the city center to limit suburban sprawl and longtime residents who want their neighborhoods to remain charming and full of character.
Opponents of the change say Austin's rapid growth and spiking house prices mean residents need to be creative about finding ways to live near the city's urban core, near their jobs. Some object to the term "stealth dorms," saying many tenants are not college students by 20- and 30-something professionals who can't afford to live anywhere else.
"I depend upon a group-living situation to be close to my work," said 30-year-old Josh Blaine, who manages a small grocery store and lives with four people in a home north of campus.
The would-be limit faces some unresolved questions, too. Would only the campus area be affected? Would it apply to existing homes or only those built in the future? Could gay and lesbian couples be considered "unrelated" because they aren't recognized as couples under state law?
There's no official record of how many stealth dorms exist, but neighborhood activists have counted more than 400 in areas near campus.
Stealth dorms function like apartment complexes but aren't required to have the same standards for parking, fire sprinklers and dumpsters, opponents say.
But Alan Ware, whose company 512 Realty manages several multifamily properties citywide, including 15 homes that would qualify as stealth dorms, said many owners abide by the six-tenant limit and impose rules about parking, noise and trash.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com