Austin, Texas to use funds cut from police budget to house homeless

The Austin City Council voted to purchase a hotel and transform it into permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.

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The city of Austin, Texas has moved to turn a hotel into permanent housing to assist homeless populations amid a housing crisis and will use funds cut from the police budget to provide shelter and more.

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According to The Appeal, the Austin City Council voted to purchase a hotel to create 60 units of permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness. 

The council will vote on a second hotel purchase next week after one member requested more time to gather feedback. In the first vote, the city agreed to spend approximately $6.7M from its Housing and Planning Department to purchase the property. Another $6.5M will be taken from a recurring fund taken from the police department’s budget to provide services for those residing in the hotel.

“In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests this summer, we made a significant cut to policing dollars and reinvested that in things like this,” said council member Gregorio Casar to The Appeal. He was one of the elected officials to help to lead the push to cut police funding. He continued, “That’s how we’re paying for this. That’s the only reason we’re able to do this.” 

Texas EMS First Responders Face Higher Caseload Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Medics with Austin-Travis County EMS check a woman with potential COVID-19 symptoms after she was found unconscious in a parking lot on Aug. 3, 2020 in Austin, Texas. Austin’s especially high homeless population is considered especially vulnerable to the pandemic. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Mackenzie Kelly, the newest member of the City Council, according to the report, requested to postpone the vote on the second hotel to speak with community members and other businesses in proximity to the location.

“We have a homelessness crisis, but treating every proposal as an out-of-context emergency is not great policy and silences stakeholders,” Kelly said at the council meeting. “We need to provide housing to the unhoused, but we can do so in a way that creates good feelings throughout the community. … We want to educate the community on this important project and continue to get feedback.”

As the council awaits the second vote, negotiations continued to officially acquire the Texas Bungalows Hotel & Suites which has 65 rooms (41 with kitchenettes) onsite laundry, and a front desk with controlled entry.

According to The Appeal, some rooms will be converted into office space and common areas versus residential space. The city’s Homeless Services division will contract nonprofits to cover operating costs and provide services such as support for mental health, substance use issues, workforce development programs, and job programs.

The second proposed purchase is a Candlewood Suites that has 83 rooms, all with full kitchenettes and air conditioners and includes amenities such as a computer room, onsite laundry, a fitness room, and outdoor patio space.

“Cities that have stepped up and tried to reallocate police budgets have faced backlash usually driven by misinformation for the past few months, but I believe in the next few months cities that reallocated police funds can start showing results, can start showing what cities can do when we reduce police overspending,” Casar said to The Appeal. “It’s only possible if we keep rethinking our priorities instead of continuing to over-invest in policing.”

According to KVUE ABC, Austin mayor Steve Adler said the city must do better to respond to the housing crisis, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to do a better job of getting people out of tents and off our streets. But I do believe that going back to where we were is the worst possible choice we could make. Because if you just send people back to the streets, into the woods where they were before, you haven’t done anything to end homelessness. You just hide it. When you hide it, it’s going to continue to grow,” he said.

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“We have to do a better job and change what we’re doing so that we get more housing, and the council is going to consider here in the next day or two this week, additional motels that we had purchased. Certainly, COVID slowed it down. But we have to do a better job with emergency and rapid housing as well, maybe some of these mini homes or other kinds of things where we do a better job of managing the public spaces that should be shared.”

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