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Austin Is Opening Up More Hotel Rooms For Emergency Housing, Quarantine For Homeless Austinites

Portable bathrooms and hand washing stations installed near an encampment at the Terrazas Library just across I-35 in downtown.
Gabriel C. Pérez
The city has installed portable bathrooms and hand-washing stations near an encampment at the Terrazas Library just across I-35 in downtown Austin.

City leaders on Thursday approved a plan to expand the use of hotels for people who can't safely quarantine because of COVID-19.

The Austin City Council OK'd $3.5 million in agreements to lease the hotels – one in South Austin near St. Edward's University and two in North Austin – for the next two months, and an option to extend those agreements another two months.

The emergency housing sites will connect people to support services and serve as a space for those who can’t safely quarantine or self-isolate during the pandemic. 

Most of the money will go toward leasing the Crowne Plaza hotel near the intersection of North Interstate 35 and Highway 290 East. Council members will use $2.8 million from its general fund's emergency reserve to lease the hotel, which could house as many as 292 people. 

The agreement also includes meal service for those staying at the hotel. City staff estimate the hotel would need to provide 1,022 meals a day for those quarantined at the hotel, along with 30 daily staff meals.

The other two hotels could house 200 additional people. The La Quinta in South Austin has a 129-room capacity and the Motel 6 near I-35 and Highway 183 has 71 rooms. Both leases for those hotels are funded through the city's housing trust fund. 

In November, the Austin City Council began negotiating a similar deal to buy an 87-room hotel off I-35 and Oltorf for $8 million. Initially, that space was meant to serve as transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness.

In a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Steve Adler said it's possible that the city could continue the use of hotel rooms for emergency housing after the coronavirus crisis subsides. 

"My hope really is that on the back end of the virus issue, we will have taken some real significant steps toward better taking care of this part of our community," he said. 

Cities like San Antonio, San Francisco and Los Angeles have enacted similar plans in recent weeks. 

City staff say the hotel could be used to house people after that deal is finalized April 17, though it would take an additional four weeks to retrofit the hotel rooms.

Austin is also partnering with Travis County to provide a smaller isolation space at the Sobering Center for 10 to 15 homeless Austinites who may present higher risk factors for COVID-19. Council also formalized an agreement with the county to fund that Thursday.

The city also approved a partnership with Revolution Foods to provide prepared meals for homeless Austinites over the next nine weeks across 50 sites.

In the last week, the city, in partnership with Austin Public Health, has expanded the number of portable restrooms and handwashing stations for unsheltered Austinites living in encampments.

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.

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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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