City Council looking at hotels to house homeless in Austin

City council is looking for hotels to house the homeless in Austin

Councilor Kelly says she plans to postpone this vote so she can get feedback from those who live near the northwest site before making a decision.

Austin city officials agree that their current approach to ending homelessness is not working. Now they are looking for a new solution. The question is what.

Visible homeless camps have become more popular since 2019 when the city lifted its ban on camping, sitting and lying in public. The visible human suffering has kindled a political fire.

“I know from talking to other city guides that the situation of the homeless has gotten out of hand,” said Councilor Mackenzie Kelly. Kelly, who represents District 6, won her runoff election in December on a platform that primarily focused on homelessness.

The nonprofit Save Austin Now is pushing for the camping ban to be reinstated and has garnered enough signatures to bring the issue to voters in May. Governor Greg Abbott says he will reinstate the ban if Austin doesn’t.

Austin homeless camping ban could be back in May 2021

The first attempt to reinstate the ban was invalidated back in August and they decided to try again from December 1st.


“It’s very important that we don’t hide the problem, is it? Hiding a problem and solving a problem are not the same thing,” argued João Paulo, director of housing and community development for the Austin Justice Coalition.

Paulo, like most lawyers and elected officials in the Austin area, is not in favor of reinstating the ban. Still, Paulo believes, like most, that something has to change.

“Now is the time to act to get these unoccupied people into homes and out of dangerous, unsafe and unsanitary conditions.” said Kelly.

Looking at possible long-term solutions, the Austin Justice Coalition and Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) announced on Monday a new initiative, the “How to House” campaign, which recruits real estate owners to partner with ECHO to target housing options at low prices Improve barriers.

“This is just another step in the right direction and it could have a huge impact if we are all able to make that choice.” said lawyer Lyric Wardlow.

At the same time as ECHO and AJC unveiled their plan on Monday, Austin City Council held a working session to discuss homelessness. This Wednesday they plan to vote on whether to buy two hotels in central and northwest Austin and convert them into apartments.

Councilor Mackenzie Kelly says she plans to postpone this vote so she can get feedback from those who live near the northwest site before making a decision. “The hotel itself secures two single-family homes in their backyards and then is in close proximity to another single-family community,” said Kelly.

Meanwhile, Kelly has publicly spoken out in favor of Councilor Ann Kitchen’s new HEAL initiative. It will be on the agenda at next week’s Council meeting.

“This initiative is different because it directs our homeless strategy officer and city council to connect people living in particularly dangerous and unsafe conditions to the services that will help them emerge from homelessness,” said Kelly.

Speakers at the ECHO and AJC press conference were asked about the sudden surge in housing initiatives and why they feel they are cutting through the noise. Wardlow described the initiatives as tandem rather than competition and called them another “piece of the puzzle”.


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