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February 21, 2012

In Austin, a lot of the fights over density are really fights against having students nearby. I understand perfectly most homeowners’ desire not to live next door to a raucous party house full of college kids. I didn’t particularly enjoy that even when I was 19 (when I actually lived in a raucous party house full of fraternity brothers).

But, as a practical matter, there is a limit to how much the City should do — or even can do — to control where and how people live.

Take the Old West University Neighborhood Association’s protest of a duplex planned for David Street. The homeowners there are worried they’ll have to contend with two  duplexes overstuffed with boisterous college kids. To block that, they’re pushing what I think is a bad interpretation of City code which could have harmful, unintended consequences and which would make duplexes a less appealing option for developers throughout Austin.

It’s natural for homeowners to want to maintain the kind of housing stock in their vicinity that will be less appealing to packs of college kids.  But we, as a city, have to decide when this makes sense as a matter of policy and when it doesn’t. College kids have to live somewhere, and neighborhoods close to campus make the most sense for them.  

When should we adopt regulations designed to deflect college students somewhere else and when should we adopt regulations to accommodate them? That’s a debatable question. But that’s really a debate about how to handle neighborhoods on the cusp of a transition. It is not a debate for a neighborhood that has already made the transition. Once a neighborhood has converted from mostly owner-occupied, single family housing to mostly rental student housing, we should stop devising regulations to deflect the students somewhere else and start planning how to accommodate them.

It turns out that students have more or less claimed OWUNA. 

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