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Austin City Council votes on series of hotel, homelessness-related items

The Austin City Council on Thursday approved a series of items related to the hotel and homelessness in general.

AUSTIN, Texas — As the controversy surrounding the purchase of a hotel located in Williamson County – but still in Austin city limits – continues, the Austin City Council on Thursday approved a series of items related to the hotel and homelessness in general.

This comes as opponents of the purchase of the Candlewood Suites on Wednesday held a press conference to suggest the City of Austin instead consider purchasing a Hilton hotel near the Austin airport. It's a suggestion that the City has remained quiet on as the council is set to be apart for about six weeks.

Item 89 states:

Approve a resolution amending Council’s previous authorization to negotiate and execute all documents and instruments necessary or desirable to purchase in fee simple approximately 2 acres of land and a building containing approximately 47,355 square feet located at 10811 Pecan Park Blvd, Bldg #2, Austin, TX 78750, from Apple Pie Hotels, LLC, for a total amount not to exceed $9,550,000, including closing costs.

If approved, the item gives the City permission to initiate a purchase with more money. Initially, the property was appraised for $9,500,000, however, due to the pandemic, the appraisal came back low. It is now appraised at $9,550,000. 

As far as a breakdown of the cost, the resolution stated there are 83 units that can be used for services, shelter or housing. "The acquisition cost will be approximately $115,000 per unit and the anticipated renovation costs to make the units ready to provide service, shelter, or housing will be approximately $20,000 per unit for a total per unit cost of approximately $135,000."

The item was pulled by Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly.

Initially, the property was up for discussion as an addition to the city's strategy to use hotels to house people experiencing homelessness. 

However, the resolution now includes that, "The City Manager is instructed that the Property is to be used only for domestic violence or other shelter, housing, or related social services."

In May, City Council approved using funding made possible by Austin's decision to "reimagine public safety" to invest in a new family violence shelter. Initial funding would come from a portion that was pulled from Austin Police Department's budget.  

"With this vote, we will immediately begin to be able to provide more shelter to family violence survivors, by having dispersed beds and existing buildings immediately, while one of the hotels that the City is looking at could be renovated and set up as an expanded family violence shelter," Councilmember Greg Casar said, in May. 

So while the hotel, if purchased, could be used as a City-owned domestic violence shelter, the resolution leaves it open for other options. It states, "The acquisition of the Property will provide a public benefit by providing 83 units to be used for domestic violence or other shelter, housing or related social services."

The property sits in Kelly's district and in Williamson County. The use of the hotel to house people experiencing homelessness has been met with criticism from business owners and residents in the area, along with some Williamson County leaders. 

No action was taken on Item 89 on Thursday night. 

Item 85 states:

Approve a resolution directing the City Manager to engage in dialogue with Williamson, Travis, and Hays County and social service providers in these counties about homelessness-related opportunities of interest to the City and respective County, including real estate transactions and other mutual investments. 

"The catalyst for this item came from the effort to purchase a hotel ... with a lack of engagement [with neighbors, business owners]," said Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly.

This item comes after extensive debate over a potential purchase of Candlewood Suites.

Mayor Adler said, during Item 85 discussion, there are "lessons to be learned" from Candlewood and said, after it was under contract, they could have had conversations with other leaders. He did clarify that, as of Thursday afternoon, "a decision hasn't been made by anybody to buy this property." 

Item 85 states Austin would inform "County leadership as soon as legally and practically possible about any real estate transactions in the portion of the city within their county."

"This resolution will help bring more stakeholders to our table and help bring about robust conversation related to homelessness," she said.

It was approved on consent by a unanimous vote, with Councilmember Casar off the dais.

Item 90 states:

Approve a resolution amending Council’s previous authorization to negotiate and execute all documents and instruments necessary or desirable to purchase in fee simple approximately 1.2230 acres of land and a building containing approximately 28,902 square feet located at 13311 Burnet Road, Austin, TX 78727 from Visvanath LP, for a total amount not to exceed $6,500,000, including closing costs.

The location in Item 90 is Texas Bungalows Hotel. Council approved a previous resolution regarding this location, however it is now $6,500,000 as opposed to when it was initially approved at $6,700,000.

It was approved on consent.

Item 77 states:

Approve a resolution adopting the American Rescue Plan Act Spending Framework and authorizing the City Manager to make the necessary allocations.

By approving Item 77, the council marked a historic investment of $100 million in local homeless solutions. This funding will provide housing, mental health care, and job aid.

“This is how we finally do something real about homelessness, rather than just moving encampments around from one part of the city to another,” said Casar. “It’s the moral thing to do, it’s the effective thing to do, and it’s the more fiscally responsible thing to do compared to paying for more jail and hospital beds. Together we can drastically reduce unsheltered homelessness in Austin, and this is the most significant step our city has ever taken in that direction. I am deeply grateful to my colleagues on the City Council and the Mayor for working together on this for several months leading up to today.”

Mayor Adler also released a statement:

“Today’s vote to secure $100 million in American Rescue Plan funding towards getting unsheltered residents out of tents and into homes with services is a giant step forward in our community's homelessness challenge, and now it needs the additional contributions of other community partners to fund the complete system and programs.

“The highest priority for the city and the council is and has been homelessness. It is the issue most in the community people seem to be talking about. We don't want people living in tents anywhere in our city. We don't want people living in tents in public places. We don't want them living in tents in encampments, sanctuaries, or in the woods and near streams. We want to get people in homes, places where they can get services and right their lives.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our community to join forces and get our neighbors off the streets. While the American Rescue Plan provides unprecedented federal funding, we still need support from other public entities, businesses, and our philanthropic partners to achieve our community goal of housing 3,000 people in three years.”

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