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Site For New Homeless Shelter Would Cost At Least $2.5 Million To Redevelop, Take Two Years To Build

A homeless encampment near the ARCH shelter in downtown Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A homeless encampment near the ARCH shelter in downtown Austin.

As Austin seeks short-term housing for its homeless population, city staff say one option for an emergency shelter wouldn't come online for at least another two years.

Officials estimate opening a temporary shelter on city-owned land could cost anywhere from $2.5 million to $6.6 million, with an expected opening date in 2022, according to a memo released Tuesday by the city's Economic Development Department. 

Back in November, Austin City Council members asked staff to look into converting the building at 1215 Red River St., known as the HealthSouth building, as a possible solution to the lack of emergency shelter beds for people living on the streets. The city currently has a call out for proposals to redevelop the property, with applications due in March.

Credit City of Austin

Council last year discussed the idea of using the shelter for one or two years while it expands its stock of quick-conversion projects to build bridge housing – like the motel-conversion project on I-35 and Oltorf Road – and permanent supportive housing projects, which typically require years to bring online.

Staff said the city hasn't yet done a formal assessment of the HealthSouth building, so it doesn't know the full extent of the repairs required to convert the building, which was once a rehabilitative facility, into a residential property. The city bought both the facility and its parking garage in 2017, eyeing it initially as an affordable housing complex.

But the recent urgency surrounding homelessness – sparked, in part, by the city's decision to scale back rules on camping and resting in public – put HealthSouth on the table as an option for temporary housing. Council Members Kathie Tovo and Ann Kitchen have pushed for the property to be used as a temporary shelter. Council Member Natasha Harper Madison countered at a work session meeting last month, however, that the site, which is in her district, is "not a viable option."

Austin Resource Recovery will use the site's parking garage to store belongings for as many as 300 homeless people; that storage site is expected to open in late March.

The city is currently moving ahead with an $8-million plan to renovate the Rodeway Inn near Oltorf Street and I-35 to house at least 87 people temporarily without preconditions, though on-site case management and counseling services would be available to clients.

Austin's efforts to address homelessness come amid scrutiny from residents and Gov. Greg Abbott, who have argued the city's policies have made the city less safe and have exacerbated public health and safety issues.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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