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Williamson County To Sue Austin Over Hotel For People Transitioning Out Of Homelessness

Austin City Council members voted to buy the Candlewood Suites hotel in North Austin to provide housing for people transitioning out of homelessness.
Julia Reihs
Austin City Council members voted to buy the Candlewood Suites hotel in North Austin to provide housing for people transitioning out of homelessness.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to request a lawsuit be filed against the City of Austin for purchasing a Candlewood Suites hotel to house people transitioning out of homelessness.

Austin’s plans for the Candlewood Suites, which is located on Pecan Park Boulevard in Williamson County, have been the target of county commissioners and nearby residents since the project was initially approved by the Austin City Council in February.

County officials said the city didn’t communicate with them ahead of the purchase of the site.

"To my knowledge, we asked them to hit the pause button, and let's have a dialogue and conversation," County Judge Bill Gravell said during Tuesday's Commissioners Court meeting. "Let's have a conversation with our residents and with our small business owners. And they failed to do so."

In a statement to KUT Wednesday, a city of Austin spokesperson said the city has not yet received a lawsuit but reiterated that the site is not a shelter, as some neighbors have claimed throughout the community discussion of the project.

“It will not be a shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness — it will be a permanent home for our neighbors,” the statement said.

The city-owned site aims to house at least 83 people transitioning out of homelessness. Residents will have access to on-site clinical and occupational services managed by Caritas, an Austin nonprofit specializing in homeless services.

Austin City Council finalized the purchase of the hotel during a meeting last Wednesday. Council Member Paige Ellis voted in favor of the purchase, saying that similar conversions of hotels have been a successful strategy in other parts of Austin.

"We do need to increase our permanent supportive housing stock," she said. "We need to provide spaces for folks to be close to services. ... We want to make sure people have a safe, warm place to go so they can get back on their feet and take control of their lives."

Gravell said that Austin council members verbally agreed to be open and speak to all municipalities and entities involved before taking any steps forward. But according to him, they did not do so before finalizing the purchase Wednesday.

"It's clear that we can't trust the City of Austin because they gave us their word that they would communicate with us and they have failed to do so," he said. "You need to understand that your commissioners court will not tolerate a neighborhood bully pushing our community around."

KUT's Andrew Weber contributed reporting.

Allyson Ortegon is a former Williamson County reporter for KUT.
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