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Mayor Maddox Issues Statement on Multifamily Housing Moratorium

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox has issued the following statement on the multifamily housing moratorium: 

For the past several years, like so many, I have been concerned regarding the proliferation of mega student apartments in Tuscaloosa. Knowing that zoning and land use laws require well-developed and legally-based solutions, in 2013, I created the Student Rental Housing Task Force (SRHTF) made up of civic and business leaders. SRHTF made recommendations and the City Council adopted the vast majority.  Unfortunately, the oversupply of apartments continued, especially from out-of-state developers, and issues regarding public safety and infrastructure continued to multiply.

In 2017, to address the impacts, the City Council adopted a water and sewer service fee to ensure that the developer and not the taxpayer offset the financial burden. This was a major step forward for the City’s infrastructure but failed to slow the construction of new student apartments. 

In January of 2019, the City Council declared a moratorium on multifamily mega complex developments of 200 bedrooms or more (this is primarily student apartments). The goal of this moratorium was to provide the City Council time to develop a comprehensive plan for land use, zoning, development codes and infrastructure. This bold step was a result of numerous community meetings and data which demonstrated that the overbuilt student housing market was impacting the City’s public safety, roads, and utility systems.

As work continued towards a comprehensive plan, the City Council extended the moratorium on several occasions with an expected completion date of this summer. However, on May 12, the City Council voted 4 to 3 to allow the moratorium to expire on May 30.  

Believing there was a threat to public safety and the City’s infrastructure, and knowing the need to have public input, on May 19, I signed an executive order extending the prior moratorium applicable to mega student apartments. I absolutely believed that this was in the best interest of the taxpayers, and within my authority as mayor.  

Yesterday, in what was supposed to be a meeting to seek compromise, an attorney representing an out-of-state developer threatened to sue the City and me personally for the May 19 executive order. The threat of being sued personally for trying to protect our community’s future is disheartening on so many levels.  Although our legal team fully believes that my Executive Order complies with Alabama law, they also expect it will take years to conclude, and ultimately cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands dollars in legal fees. 

As much as I want to continue the moratorium through my Executive Order, I will not harm the City’s ability to provide essential services, especially in light of the significant budget reductions for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19.  

Effective immediately, I am withdrawing Executive Order 2020-017 extending the multifamily housing moratorium applicable to student housing developments. 

Although my legal options are now exhausted, I will not waver on my position that mega student apartments are bad for public safety, neighborhoods, infrastructure and our overall quality of life. It becomes even worse if it is not addressed immediately. Since 2011, the University of Alabama has grown by 7,871 students while in the same time over 14,000 new apartment bedrooms have been added. The surplus of beds coupled with the services and infrastructure required for mega student apartment complexes are a perfect storm that can jeopardize our City’s future.  

Clearly, we need a comprehensive plan of action. Now, this crucial decision falls to the City Council.