The Austin City Council will vote Monday on whether to spend $7.8 million to buy and renovate a hotel off Riverside Drive in East Austin to house homelessness Austinites. The property could house at least 71 people.
The city says it's prepared to spend as much as $6.8 million on the 1.3-acre property at 7705 Metro Center Dr. and another $1 million on possible renovations to the Wyndham Microtel Inn, according to city documents.
The purchase is part of a larger strategy to more quickly house homeless Austinites by buying and converting hotels into what's called bridge housing – temporary housing without preconditions such as drug or mental health treatment. The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, which will manage the property, will have on-site health and counseling services, as well as opportunities to connect people with housing resources. Council voted last month to do the same thing at a property near I-35 and Oltorf Drive.
The Metro Center property near U.S. Highway 183 and Ben White Boulevard straddles Districts 2 and 3. When council members discussed the possibility of buying a hotel earlier this week, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who represents District 2, said she supported the overall strategy, but urged the city to seek properties in more affluent districts – not just districts with lower incomes.
"I hope as we continue these searches for these needed facilities, we sincerely do look throughout the city," she said. "Because I will have big concerns if every single one of these is going to be in the majority-minority parts of our town."
Matt Mollica, head of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, which will manage the two properties, told KUT he hopes city staff spread out the sites going forward. He said it makes sense, as homeless Austinites live all over the city – not in concentrated pockets of the city.
"People experiencing homelessness have desires to live all over the city. It’s not just that there’s one certain part of town that people are more interested in," he said. "So, we totally agree, from an equitable perspective, we need to make sure there are services and housing provided to everyone across all Council districts."
The city's efforts to more quickly house homeless Austinites come amid state scrutiny over Austin's homelessness policies. Earlier this year, the city rescinded some rules banning camping and resting in public, a decision that drew condemnation from Gov. Greg Abbott and others. The decision made Austin's homeless community more visible, but critics argued the policy led to a public health and safety crisis. The city later reinstated some bans on camping and resting.
Since then, the city has moved to expedite developments to house people, focusing less on longer-term developments and more on methods to increase the housing stock and opportunities for Austinites transitioning out of homelessness.
This story has been updated.
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