Help Stop The Destruction of Urban Family Neighborhood by Dorm Style Housing

Authored by Angela Pack Zia and Mary Sanger.

(Updated April 16, 2013)

The multitude of nuisance, safety and traffic problems that dorm-style housing generates is absolutely incompatible with family neighborhoods and can have a rapid devastating impact on single family neighborhoods. Mike Wong, President of Northfield Neighborhood Association ( stated that his neighborhood has lost 10 single family homes within the last six weeks to dorm-style housing, with a total of 20 single family homes being replaced by dorm-style housing within the past six months. The result is a high percent turn over within the past six months whereby single family homes in the neighborhood have been replaced with dorm-style housing. More are on their way as four more homes have been recently demolished on 51st between Guadalupe and Duval and more homes demolished on North Loop. Because of this incompatibility with dorm-style housing and single family homes, the single family occupants are forced to leave, thereby, creating a domino effect in the community that continues to greatly negatively impact existing single family residents.

The Northfield Neighborhood is not alone. The domino effect of dorm-style duplexes/housing continues to be a serious problem for other Central Austin Neighborhoods such as Brykerwood, Brentwood, Heritage, Shoalcrest, and even in East Austin and South Congress. North Central Austin is on the cusp of this rising trend in dorm-style development because of its proximity to University of Texas and its large number of aging single family rental houses. In fact, it has been occurring for some time on a smaller scale as family residents have already been forced to sale their homes due to the problems caused by neighboring dorm-style duplexes/housing. Today, we are dismayed by three dorm duplexes that are being developed across from Lee Elementary School and the impact it will have on the safety of our children. Yet, with such large profits to be had by developers combined with the domino effect discussed above, what will be dealing with tomorrow?

What is generating the influx of dorm-style duplexes/housing into Central Austin neighborhoods? The current law allows up to six unrelated individuals to inhabit a single family residence. Yet, with lax enforcement, the actual number of unrelated inhabits can be even greater. Other likely contributing factors are:

1) A booming economy,

2) Increase enrollment at the University of Texas at Austin,

3) Increase in population in the urban core

4) Policy to encourage density

5) Substantial money to be made by developers who can charge anywhere between $850-$1,100 per individual in a single residence (multiplied by six!); thereby also pricing out families who could otherwise afford to live in Central Austin.

Yet, Austin is not unique to the devastation dorm-style duplexes/housing has had on local neighborhoods. A 2008 study on college towns demonstrates this problem and what other towns have done to limit its negative impact. For example, at the urgency by neighborhoods in College Station, that city reduced occupancy limits to four unrelated single adults per residence. Additionally, these neighborhoods formed conservation districts to prevent further development of dorm-style housing. San Marcos and Lubbock went further and limited residential occupancy to two unrelated individuals per residence. To protect our urban family neighborhoods from further devastation, we implore the City Council to use its power to act now, as other cities have done, to limit the number of unrelated occupants per residence and to seek long-lasting solutions to maintain and preserve sustainable neighborhoods in its urban core [,].

Hancock Neighborhood Association’s ongoing team has been working with other North and Central Austin Neighborhoods which have been devastated by the influx of dorm duplexes/housing. We have, as a group, met with City Council Members not only on the proposed development on Harris Avenue but also on the larger issue on how dorm-style housing has been devastating Central Austin Neighborhoods. Additionally, we have circulated a resolution to local Neighborhood Associations, including the Austin Neighborhood Council that will be brought to City Council.

We ask that you join us in this effort by petitioning the City Council to act. Please join us by signing the resolution below. You may send your name and contact information to Angela Pack Zia or Mary Sanger at the following emails stating that you give permission to add your name to the aforementioned petition to City Council. Your information will be used only for the purpose of this petition and will not be used in any other way.

The petition for resolution:


Stealth dorms and dorm duplexes are devastating neighborhoods and disrupting lives in Central and North Central Austin neighborhoods. We implore the City Manager, the Mayor and the City Council to take emergency action to stop this plague in our Central and North Central Austin Neighborhoods. The problem calls for emergency action. Too many lives are being devastated to defer acting any longer.

Email Mary Sanger at or Angela Pack Zia at

Thank you for your involvement in saving our neighborhoods!