Council to consider new rules next year
need the help.”
That argument is thus far hypothetical, and it has split the council. Four members — Sheryl Cole, Mike Martinez, Laura Morrison and Tovo — voted Thursday to have Austin Energy bring a recommendation to the council early next year for new rules to limit rent increases.
They would possibly mirror rules for a federal low-income weatherization program that prohibit owners from using energy eficiency improvements as a trigger for higher rents.
Three council members said the idea would discourage participation in a program that historically has drawn limited interest, as well as putting the city in the awkward position of determining what prompted an owner to raise rents. Mayor Lee Lefingwell and Council Members Bill Spelman and Chris Riley said rent limitations would also work against the larger goal of the energy eficiency program: to lower Austin’s energy consumption and avert the need to build an expensive new power plant.
“Do we really want to follow apartment owners and ask them to justify their rents?” Spelman said. “The market does better at that than a bureaucratic apparatus.”
Austin Energy managers told the council that most city programs now available to apartment complexes will reimburse up to 90 percent of the cost, up to $200,000.
Austin Energy spokesman Ed Clark said landlords that have participated did so mainly because of a city rule that took effect in June 2011 requiring ineficient buildings to be improved to the point that they use about as much energy as comparable ones. Over the past three years, about 300 of Austin’s 1,369 apartment complexes made the improvements, almost all of them because the new city rules required them to, Clark said.
Spelman said the lukewarm reception is partly due to the fact that most tenants, not the building owners, pay the electric bills. The owners do not see a beneffit until they sell the building or unless lower monthly bills are a draw for tenants, he said.