I like to monitor the real estate in my area of Austin. So I was thrilled when I saw a bungalow 3 blocks away “under contract” that was selling for $279,000. Wow, the property values in Austin are really going up! Then I read the fine print.

The home’s owner is a real estate agent and he states the property has been fully rehabbed. Then I read further: 2 bedrooms in the basement and a full kitchen, 2 bedrooms in the attic and a full kitchen. Now I am furious. You see, for the past six years I have been a member of the 25th District Housing subcommittee. During that time the homeowners north of Grand Avenue have told horror stories about how 95% of the homes on their block have been “illegally converted” into 3- to 6-flats. They were concerned about the amount of garbage, the parking as well as the overcrowded schools.

Often when I listened to their concerns, I felt that those of us in Austin were luckier because our problems tended to be a drug house and usually they were all family members. Yes, we have our “Pookies” living in the basement or up in the attic, but most folks weren’t putting a kitchen in either area for him or her. Instead, the dream was to get them to move out.

We haven’t had to deal with house after house with multiple families living in one location, which puts a strain on the community’s resources. We don’t have every house needing 10 garbage cans, multiple mailboxes and “apartment for rent” signs in the front windows.

So the house in the 4800 block of West St. Paul was a concern until I started checking some of the other houses for sale in Austin. One in the 4800 block of West Cortez has six bedrooms and two home offices. Another in the 4800 block of West Concord has five bedrooms with sizes like 7 x 8 feet (my office cubicle is bigger than that!).

Yes, I know many people put a stove in their basement. But there is a difference between wanting an extra stove in the basement for your own personal needs and putting one there so that you have an apartment to rent out.

I attended the zoning hearing on April 19 and the zoning committee has no plans to do anything about “illegal conversions.” There is a fear in establishing a comprehensive rule for the number of people who can live in one house. Yet HUD has no problem establishing the number of bedrooms a family with a Section 8 certificate needs when they are looking to rent. But for us homeowners, the city is not concerned about our rights to buy property and then protect our investment from unscrupulous developers and investors whose only goal is to make money.

I spoke with a woman from the assessor’s office. She confirmed that it is the real estate transaction of selling/buying property in a certain area that causes all the other houses to be reassessed. So when the house closes for $279,000, the taxman assumes that all houses in that area should sell for roughly the same amount. Don’t forget, the assessor thinks the house is still just a 2-bedroom and not a 3-flat with six bedrooms. So you will soon be taxed based on that “illegally converted” house even though you couldn’t sell your home for that amount since you don’t have the extra kitchens, baths and bedrooms.

I spoke with Commissioner Larry Rodgers from the Board of Review. Normally the review process is to ask that your taxes be lowered because you’ve been assessed too high. What I wanted to know is if we could bring those ads before his board to have those houses reassessed as being the 3- to 6-flats they’ve now become. This will have the owner paying the correct amount of taxes.

“Hmm” he said. He had never heard of it, but it makes sense. I am planning on pursuing that idea further.

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