AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin City Council voted on Wednesday to purchase a motel to provide transitional housing for those experiencing homelessness.
The council approved the purchase of the Texas Bungalows & Suites on Burnet Road in north Austin for an amount to not exceed $6.7 million.
A vote to purchase Candlewood Suites on Pecan Park Boulevard in northwest Austin was postponed at the request of Council Member Mackenzie Kelly who requested an additional week to share the plan with the public.
“Yes, we have a homelessness crisis, but treating every proposal as a dire emergency to circumvent dialogue is bad policy,” Kelly said in a statement to KXAN. “The City, in a lot of ways, has lost the trust of the community regarding the homeless situation, particularly since the lifting of the camping ban was pushed through early one Austin morning.”
Kelly said she would like to create a “fresh and friendly” approach to the relationship the city has with both housed and unhoused residents in Austin, as the Feb. 4 meeting approaches to discuss the possible purchase of the Candlewood Suites.
Combined, both motels would have added 148 units to the city’s supply.
“I think the message we need to be sending to the community is that we’re going to move with great urgency to get people out of tents and off our streets,” Mayor Steve Adler said. “I think the motel strategy is the most efficient way for us to do that.”
Last year, the council approved the purchase of two motels along IH-35 — Rodeway Inn and Country Inn and Suites — as part of the city’s motel conversion strategy. At a combined cost of $16 million, the city added 162 units of transitional housing.
Both motels, however, have been used as emergency shelters for high-risk Austinites experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. While serving a different purpose, advocates say the motel conversion strategy is passing its first test.
“I know it will be impactful,” said Matt Mollica, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, which helps lead the City of Austin’s approach. “As far as the capital costs go, I would be surprised if any developer in the city could talk about developing a housing unit for that cost.”
Austin Public Health is working to provide KXAN with the operating costs of the city’s five emergency shelters, known as prolodges, which includes the two hotels the city purchased last year as part of the motel conversion strategy.