AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council on Wednesday voted to approve the purchase of yet another hotel to house the homeless, with the vote on another one expected to come next week.
The hotel to be purchased is the Texas Bungalows Hotel & Suites in North Austin for $6.7 million. The second hotel still under consideration is the Candlewood Suites in northwest Austin for $9.5 million.
Since the vote, social media posts have gone viral stating this funding comes from money previously directed away from the Austin Police Department's budget.
Even Councilmember Greg Casar suggested that was true.
“This solution is only possible because of the transformation of Austin’s police budget," he said Wednesday. "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."
KVUE can verify these statements are true in a sense, but they are slightly misleading.
To put it simply, the money for the purchases of the hotels actually comes from 2018 bonds, specifically out of the Housing & Planning Department’s 2018 General Obligation Bonds, at a combined total of $16,250,000.
A memo to the mayor and council stated: "While detailed operating and service budgets will be developed during the negotiation process, annual service costs and operating costs have been estimated below. Funding is expected to be provided from Austin Public Housing, drawing from the additional $6.5M added to the FY21 budget to address homelessness."
So, when Casar says, "This solution is only possible because of the transformation of Austin’s police budget," he's referencing the funding for the operations of the hotels, which will come from money diverted from APD.
In August, the city council approved pulling up to $150 million from APD's budget, much of which to reallocate to other programs. More than $23 million went to "immediate reinvestment," according to a city Google doc. Within that $23 million, the document shows $6.5 million would go to "Permanent Supportive Housing and Services."
During the council discussions Wednesday, councilmembers Kathie Tovo and Alison Alter discussed how this has caused misinformation to the public.
"We've heard a lot of testimony today about the fact that shifting money from the police department has enabled us to make the purchases that are on our agenda for today," Tovo said. "I think it's really important that we provide clear information to the public. Both of these facilities are being proposed to be purchased with bond funding, general obligation bond funding. And this is due in part to the voters of Austin coming forward and supporting and investing in homes for their neighbors. So thank you to the voters of the city who came out and voted for the affordable bond funding. That is how these facilities are being purchased, and we can have conversations about where the money for services and operations and which budget, but the fact is we made a commitment – long before we made budget changes, we made a commitment that we were interested in pursuing this strategy."
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