College Station City council expands definition of "family"

The City of College Station is once again proving they are not fans of college students. 

A little over a week ago, the City Council voted 6-1 in favor of redefining and expanding  “family.” The new definition is: “A family is any number of persons occupying in a single dwelling unit, provided that unless all members are (1) related by blood, adoption, guardianship, or marriage, or (2) members are part of a group home for disabled persons, or an authorized caretaker, no such family shall contain more than four (4) persons.”

While at first glance, this definition may seem reasonable, it’s not, because who can and cannot live in your home is, in part, restricted by whom the government considers your family. If you want to live in a home occupied by more than four people but all of you are unrelated, you’re out of luck. If this seems like it could be you, I wouldn't be surprised, since most college students who live together are not related.

Many students live in five or six bedroom homes for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that it is cost effective. Simply put, living with more people is cheaper since rent per person is less. The city, however, either forgot to take this into account or just does not care. (My vote is for the latter).

Don’t be fooled, though. If you dig a little deeper you will realize that this is not entirely the city’s doing. It is the work of a local political action committee, the College Station Association of Neighbourhoods, or CSAN. Every single member that recently was up for re-election and voted for this proposal was heavily endorsed by CSAN. 

CSAN is an organization that has been relentless in their efforts to get their way when it comes to housing policy in College Station. In fact, they are the architects of the Residency Occupancy Overlay, or ROO, which is another proposal that will disproportionately hurt college students. The new definition of family is just a pathway to make the ROO a reality. While it is a win for CSAN, it is a loss for college students.

Look at the big picture here: Who is the government to define what is and is not a family? Since when was it the city’s business to tell me who can live in my home and who cannot? Last I checked, the City of College Station isn't paying my rent, nor anyone else’s as far as I know. As such, they have no right to tell me who can live in my home. 

Council member Dennis Malooney, who voted in favor of the re-definition, said, “As one city council member, I support allowing the majority of property owners in each subdivision the tools they need to protect their private property and the lifestyle that is under attack by those who value a return on investment over lifestyle in those subdivisions...and defining a family unit is one of those tools.” 

My lifestyle and who I live with is none of the government's business. As long as I’m not putting anyone in danger, the city needs to back off. 

The lone counselor to vote against this policy is Elizabeth Cunha, the only city counselor I endorsed (and CSAN did not) that won this election cycle. Cunha told me, “I voted against it on the principle that the government should not define family.”

Every other candidate I endorsed explicitly told me they were against the ROO, which leads me to believe there is no way they would have voted for re-defining family. So for the millionth time — your vote matters. If we as students had gotten those other two candidates elected, I might not be writing this column. 

The councilors who did vote for this proposal are neglecting the fact that their actions could harm thousands of their constituents. Roughly 54 percent of College Station residents are college students. This is not a number that should be ignored. Unfortunately, for students, it often is. 

There is no other way to spin this — this policy hurts students. As Aggies and residents of College Station, it is high time we do something about these councilmembers not representing us in a way that is beneficial. I urge all students reading this to write to the city council members expressing your grievances, attend city council meetings and make your voices heard. The council members who voted for this harmful policy are: Bob Brick, John Crompton, Linda Harvell, John Nichols, Dennis Maloney and Mayor Karl Mooney. Write them, call them or do whatever you can to make it known that we as students aren't ignorant of their harmful policies. 

Decisions are made by those who show up.” To protect ourselves as students we must all show up. 

Sam Somogye is a political science senior and columnist for The Battalion. His column is typically published online every other Monday when not in the Thursday newspaper. 

(1) comment

David C. Nelson

Every spring semester, thousands of TAMU students devote countless hours of campaigning in student elections, contests which have limited financial impact on them. However, when municipal elections occur every year, relatively few students vote. Some are not even registered here; others cast ballots in presidential or statewide elections, ignoring the city council races that potentially have the power to hit students in the pocketbook.

Sam Somogye's article presents another reason for students to vote their financial interests in municipal elections. Less than five percent of College Station's registered voters cast ballots in the Nov. 3 election that decided one city council seat. Students voting their own interests in local elections could make a big difference in eradicating the overlay ordinances designed to keep them from living in the neighborhoods.

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