Story at a glance
- The city of Austin, Texas, reallocated $150 million in funds from its police department this summer.
- Now, the city council is using those funds to purchase hotels and other properties for emergency housing.
- Voters have petitioned to vote on the city’s housing policy later this year.
The Texas Bungalows Hotel & Suites is still taking reservations for open rooms right now, but probably not for much longer.
The Austin City Council voted to purchase the site for $6.7 million on Tuesday, one of several intended for emergency housing, isolation and support services related to COVID-19. This particular building, located at 13311 Burnet Road, would provide about 60 units of permanent supportive housing for unhoused people, according to a memo from the city’s public health department.
The money comes from the more than $150 million in funds reallocated from the Austin Police Department last summer in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and calls to “defund the police.” The police department's budget is now $290 million.
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“By purchasing these hotels, we pull people off the streets and into housing and stability. It’s even more important that we approve the second of these hotels next week,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar told a local news outlet. “These hotels will not only be homes for people, but will also provide services like job aid, health care, mental health resources, and more. This solution is only possible because of the transformation of Austin’s police budget. Although I’m disappointed that one of the two hotels was postponed today, I’m confident we can get the second one across the finish line next week. The community is calling on us to show real urgency in addressing homelessness.”
The move garnered praise from residents who have advocated for a housing solution for the city, which recorded more than 2,500 unhoused people last January, and others including ice cream company Ben & Jerrys.
Stop criminalizing poverty and give people the basic needs they need to thrive. https://t.co/0Ih1SzkAqf— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) January 28, 2021
The properties will add to two other hotels bought by the city last year for transitional housing. A vote on another property was postponed at the request of Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, whose district includes the site. Council Member Leslie Pool seconded the request for delay.
"We as leaders in our city deserve to provide them with transparency related to the plans for the hotel and input from the community," Kelly said at the meeting. "I want to be clear here, I am in support of supportive housing for the homeless, because it is what is needed, and what we are doing currently for the homeless situation is not enough."
The city is at a crossroads with its housing policy, with Mayor Steve Adler calling for a change of direction after residents successfully petitioned for a vote to reinstate the city's homeless camping ban.
"I just don't think that a week delay will change the conversation that we're seeing bubble up from the community," said Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, who championed the purchase. "Being able to move forward and take action has been so much of the conversations we've shared especially on the campaign trail, and I feel this urgent need that we do not delay a single day to get us on that pathway."
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