As we progress further into 2021, the term “new year, new me” does not seem to be resonating with the College Station City Council. Most council members, along with the College Station Association of Neighborhoods, or CSAN, continue to push for a Restricted Occupancy Overlay, or ROO.
The city recently held a meeting for local media, and I was fortunate enough to attend. I learned quite a bit thanks to College Station’s Long Term Planning Advisor Alyssa Halle-Schramm and would like to share some of what I learned.
First things first: What is the ROO?
At its very core, the ROO would not allow more than two people who are not considered family members to live together. Now some of you may be thinking: “Wait, that’s me!”
Don’t be too worried, though. A lot of factors go into this proposed ordinance, the most important one being where you live in College Station.
The only areas that could choose to adopt the ROO must be in a single-family zoning subdivision. Luckily, not many students live in these subdivisions (think Pebble Creek, the Traditions, neighborhoods like that).
It’s worth noting that these subdivisions would have to agree to adopt the ROO for their specific area and would need the city council’s approval. A percentage of homeowners that would have to agree to this has not yet been decided, but CSAN, which is the main architect of this policy, has proposed that it be 58 percent.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what the ROO is, let’s discuss the three major issues with it.
1. It could be illegal
I have aspirations to go to law school, but I am by no means a legal expert. Nonetheless, even I can recognize the potential legal troubles of a ROO — namely, its possible violations of the Fair Housing Act.
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs states, “[The Federal Fair Housing] Act, in addition to the Texas Fair Housing Act, protects your right to rent an apartment, buy a home, obtain a mortgage or purchase homeowner’s insurance free from discrimination based on: Race, Color, National Origin, Religion, Sex, Familial Status and Disability.”
The important thing to note is the mentioning of familial status. The city recently expanded the definition of family, possibly as a way of circumventing this issue. However, the ROO’s legality still remains dubious at best.
The only way to enforce the ROO is through citizen complaints. At the recent meeting I was invited to, Halle-Schramm said the way this would likely occur is that a concerned citizen would report their suspicions of a ROO violation through the city’s See-Click-Fix portal. Once it’s reported, a code enforcement team may launch an investigation, which would be lengthy to say the least.
First, someone from the code enforcement team would come to the reported home and investigate. This may include them knocking on your door and asking you some questions. They could then monitor the situation by keeping track of the number of cars in front of your house and how long they are there, even taking note of the license plate numbers. This would occur for 21 days, and the enforcement team would then decide if further action needs to be taken. If they decide more action is necessary, they could submit their case to the city’s legal team, which could result in a summons to court.
Seems a little extra, right?
The question that really needs to be asked here is this: Is all this time and energy really worth it? The city can definitely find something better to do with its resources than investigate people’s living conditions — which, might I add, is definitely an invasion of privacy.
3. The morality of it all
Governing who can and cannot live together is simply not moral. It is an invasion of privacy, and the government should not dictate with whom you or I live. This policy will probably not directly affect that many students considering the overlay won’t be in areas predominantly occupied by current Aggies. Nonetheless, one person affected by this policy is one too many. Also, let us not forget those who are not attending Texas A&M University but are non-related living together just so they can afford to live in our great city and contribute to our economy.
I do believe this policy is well-intentioned, but the fact of the matter is that it is unreasonable and morally and legally questionable. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, people are out of work and businesses are shutting down left and right. The city council’s time would be better spent working on those issues.
The city is holding a workshop on Feb. 22 specifically geared toward hearing input from students. I encourage all of you to attend this meeting to voice your concerns.
Change happens one step at a time, the first step being speaking up.
It’s time to speak up.
Sam Somogye is a political science senior and columnist for The Battalion.