Austin Proposes Budget That Includes $62.7 Million For 'Moral Imperative' Of Ending Homelessness

Aug 5, 2019

The City of Austin says it's prepared to boost spending on housing and homelessness assistance programs ahead of a state-mandated property tax revenue cap that goes into effect next year.

The entire budget proposal tops out at $4.2 billion. A sizeable portion of that will go toward funding Austin Energy, the city-owned utility, and its capital budget, which pays for planned investments; $1.1 billion will go toward the city's general fund, which pays for projects and city services.

All told, the budget increases city property taxes by 2.5%, or roughly $100 more for typical homeowners over last year.

City Manager Spencer Cronk unveiled the city's budget proposal for the 2019-2020 fiscal year Monday. It includes a $17 million increase over last year in money set aside for homelessness initiatives – a total of $62.7 million in general revenue funds.

RELATED Find more on the $4.2 billion proposed budget at the Austin Monitor

Cronk touted the city's push to effectively end veteran homelessness and youth homelessness, and said the proposed budget reflects those efforts.

"Homelessness is the priority and the moment is now."

"We have responded to this direction with a budget that makes a historic commitment to achieving this moral imperative," he said.

Mayor Steve Adler called the increase in funding for homelessness services a "bold step."

"I hope [it] will ally the business, faith, neighborhood, and non-profit communities to join us in action and purpose," he said in a statement. "Homelessness is the priority and the moment is now.

The boost in city money toward ending homelessness comes as the Austin City Council prepares to build shelters outside of downtown. The city says roughly $16 million of the total money will go toward one-time expenses for shelters – including a plan to build a new, housing-focused emergency shelter in South Austin and plans to put shelter or camping spaces in all 10 council districts. 

The city also plans to set aside $1.3 million to repair the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, as well as roughly $1.5 million to support the Salvation Army's Rathgeber Center, a family-focused shelter in East Austin needs additional money to become fully operational.

The increase in city spending on homelessness comes a month after its new rules on resting, camping and panhandling took effect. Those rules have sparked a difficult conversation on the issue of homelessness and how the city should balance both a need to transition people to housing and consider public health and safety issues associated with it. Council made ending homelessness its top priority in 2018.

The new city budget walks just up to the 8% cap on the so-called rollback rate, a state-mandated limit on year-over-year tax increases. This year’s increase is a response to a state cap on tax revenue that takes effect next year and would require any proposed tax revenue increase to be put to a vote if it exceeds 3.5%.

Cronk announced Lori Pampilo Harris will fill the vacancy for the city's homelessness strategy officer, a position rolled into last year's budget. Pampilo Harris previously worked as a senior adviser specializing in homelessness, Cronk said.

He also said the city will form an advisory committee to inform and guide efforts to mitigate homelessness and hire a third-party contractor to monitor city contracts with service-providers.