Austin Local News
UPDATE:Council to Discuss Motel Acquisition
Austin City Council now says it will not buy a building on just over an acre and a half of land in South Austin on Ben White for a homeless shelter. Council is focusing its attention into buying hotel and motels which they say are easier and cheaper to convert into homeless shelters.
The City of Austin has named homelessness as its top priority. As shelter space has dwindled this year, the city council has put a laser-focus on new housing options, which now include talks over buying and renovating old hotels or motels. On Tuesday, council is expected to address the acquisition of the Rodeway Inn at 2711 S IH-35.
According to this week's city council meeting agenda, "The number of people experiencing homelessness in Austin continues to rise, with the Point-In-Time Count reflecting an increase from 2,147 in 2018 to 2,255 in 2019. As a subset, the number of unsheltered individuals increased from 1,014 to 1,086 within this period. Over the past five years this same population grew by 638 individuals, an increase of nearly 63%."
Agenda item 96 calls for the approval of an ordinance "amending the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Office of Real Estate Services Capital Budget (Ordinance No. 20190910-001) to increase appropriations by $8,000,000 to acquire and renovate a building to provide shelter and support services to those experiencing homelessness."
The money would then be put toward the purchase of that motel property.
"The Office of Real Estate Services has identified the building at 2711 South IH-35 as a property that would be able to provide shelter and support services to those experiencing homelessness. The property is an ideal location given the proximity to areas where individuals who are experiencing homelessness live, accessible by public transportation, close to major arterials, and within reasonable distance of health care facilities. The estimated purchase price including closing costs and other related fees is $8,000,000. The funding in this item includes funding for renovation," the agenda states.
Mayor Steve Adler is confident in the direction the city is headed.
"Council will consider acquiring and renovating what I hope will be the first of several hotel properties to rapidly house and help permanently stabilize people in our community experiencing homelessness. This type of property conversion has worked in cities around the country, providing housing and wraparound services in collaboration with service providers. Encouraged by these examples, we have been focused on executing the strategy here in Austin for sometime. The strategy gained momentum when Matt Mollica arrived in Austin to run ECHO since he has prior successful experience doing this. This week is an exciting milestone in a long-term strategy for addressing homelessness," Adler says.
The city appears to be poised to pay far more for the property than it is worth. According to the Travis County Appraisal District, the 2019 valuation for 2711 S IH-35 was $2,661,642. Earlier this year, the city council also approved spending roughly $8,600,000 on a building in South Austin to be converted to a homeless shelter, despite its appraised value being closer to $3,500,000.
City leaders' focus on long-term permanent supportive housing is not without its critics. Chuck Devore with the Texas Public Policy Foundation believes the city is missing the bigger picture, and will not solve the problem by simply giving people new places to call home.
"There are reasons for that, that have to do with mental illness and addiction," Devore says. "We need to get at the root of the problem and stop pretending that high housing costs are the reason that people are homeless."
A council vote on the $8,000,000 appropriation is expected on Thursday.