Austin's NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Austin

Group Looking To Overturn Austin's Homelessness Rules Sues, Alleging City Threw Out Valid Petition Signatures

A homeless encampment set up under Ben White Boulevard.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
An encampment under Ben White Boulevard in March.

A group hoping to overturn Austin's rules related to homelessness is suing the city.

Save Austin Now submitted signatures it gathered between February and July to overturn the city's ordinances, which passed in 2019 and relaxed bans on where people can sleep or sit in public. The group, led by Travis County GOP Chair Matt Mackowiak, ultimately wanted to put the issue to voters in November.

The city clerk estimated, however, there was a 3-in-1-billion chance the group turned in enough valid signatures to force a petition-based referendum. At least 20,000 are required.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Travis County District Court, Mackowiak and co-founder Cleo Petricek argue the clerk threw out valid signatures and that Austin is less safe than it was before the city revised the ordinances.

"Every Austinite should demand a safe city. We know that Austin is less safe today than it was a year ago. We submitted more than enough signatures and we believe the courts will come to the same conclusion," Petricek said. "The city of Austin is arrogant. They do not want to hear from residents. We demand the right to be heard and look forward to making our case.”

The city said it eased the rules because they saddled homeless Austinites with fines and fees they couldn't pay, leading to arrest warrants that could jeopardize their chances of getting employment or stable housing.

Save Austin Now hopes the lawsuit will force the issue on the ballot in May. Critics of the revision of camping and resting policies, including Gov. Greg Abbott, say it led to a proliferation of encampments that have made Austin less safe.

The city argues it simply made homeless Austinites more visible.

This year's annual count of the homeless population found a 45% increase in unsheltered Austinites over the year prior – and a 10-year high overall.

In a statement to KUT, a city spokesperson said Austin followed appropriate state and municipal guidelines in its vetting process for the signatures and that it stands behind the process.

"We are confident in the integrity of the process the Clerk followed, and are frankly disappointed to have received this lawsuit after the election, and just over 15 weeks after the end of the signature validation process," the spokesperson said.

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

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it. Your gift pays for everything you find on KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.

Related Content