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Home improvement project fees could be driving some out of Austin

Some Austin City Council members say permitting fees for property improvement projects could be driving people out of Austin. (CBS Austin)

Some Austin City Council members say permitting fees for property improvement projects could be driving people out of Austin. On Thursday, the council approved a resolution to help ease the process and minimize fees for residential property owners.

Monica Brickley says she and her husband found themselves wrapped up in bureaucratic chaos when it came time for them to add onto their home as their family grew. She says they faced thousands of dollars in fees just to get the project rolling.

"I couldn't have imagined the difficulties and layers of bureaucracy and fees that would trouble our lives and make the process really painful," Brickly said.

Austin native and building designer Felicia foster says, "New surveys, months of permitting, new water taps, and costs to rip up the street for new waterlines are part of why the cost for home improvement has risen in Austin over the years."

"They know this process is difficult. They're making hard decisions about, do I stay, do I expand, do I do it here in Austin or do I move out," said City Council Member Delia Garza, who sponsored the resolution along with Council Members Ellen Troxclair, Greg Casar, Alison Alter, and Ann Kitchen.

Bo McCarver is a chairman at the Blackland Community Development Corporation, which helps provide low-income housing to residents in East Austin's Blackland neighborhood. He fears property improvement projects, like replacing roofs? shingles, and windows, could cause their tenants' rent to rise if permit fees continue to increase.

He says volunteers have pitched in to help them mitigate the financial burden by offering construction work at no cost.

One elderly homeowner, who didn't want to show his face on camera, says he has had no choice but to work around the process. "I'm at my house. If I need to get on my ladder to do something, then I do it," the homeowner said. "Right now, I just have to survive. That's all I'm trying to do."

"They're kinda like moonshiners, they work when it's dark and they work when people aren't around," McCarver said. "They're good-hearted people. They don't mean to be doing anything illegal. They just can't afford the process."

The council plans to vote on new changes to help ease the home improvement permitting process in January.

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