Austin City Council waives $4M in fees to help expand community for chronically homeless

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council voted Thursday to waive around $4.3 million in development fees to help expand the Community First! Village in northeast Austin.

The village is run by Mobile Loaves & Fishes and provides permanent housing for those experiencing chronic homelessness.

More than 220 people who once were homeless live there now, according to the City of Austin.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes wants to expand the village by adding 1,400 new micro-homes across a combined 127 acres. This vote helps that effort.

“Imagine having a donor walk into your operation and basically write a four-plus million dollar check. That’s what’s happening,” said Mobile Loaves & Fishes Founder and CEO Alan Graham. “If what you see out on our street corners and on our medians and under our bridges touches your heart, and you want to do something about it, we want you to come up alongside us.”

The expansion will happen in two phases, according to the city.

Phase 3 will expand the community onto a piece of land connected to its current location on Hog Eye Road. Phase 4 will expand the community in a new location off Burleson Road between McKinney Falls Parkway and U.S. 183. 

Fees waived by the Development Services Department relate to the development review process, inspections, plumbing and electrical fees.

The city said Austin Water and Austin Energy will help out by providing more infrastructure and support for the community’s water, wastewater and electric services.

Graham said groundbreaking is still dependent on the permit process being approved. But once that occurs, shovels will be in the dirt around this time in 2022.

Fundraising for the next two phases will likely begin in the fall and will be a heavy undertaking. Graham estimates the development will need around nine figures to get the job done.

“Bringing them into the village isn’t an overnight success. But over the 5.5 years we’ve been open, we’ve been able to build trust,” Graham said. “Housing alone will never solve homelessness. But community will.”

Homeless housing progress

In May, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) released its estimate of the city’s homeless population.

ECHO estimates in a single day this year, more than 3,100 people experience homelessness. About 200 are living in hotels paid for by the city.

The Rodeway Inn has already been purchased and will become the location of the new Southbridge Program, which will provide immediate temporary shelter.

The Country Inn and Suites is the other purchased hotel, which is currently being used as a ProLodge to temporarily house individuals at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Two other hotels, the Texas Bungalows and the Candlewood Suites, are currently under negotiations with the city.

The city is currently in phase one of the Prop B rollout, which includes visiting dozens of known homeless sites and informing the people living there of the new rules. This outreach period will last 30 days.

Beginning June 13 and continuing until July 10, Austin Police Department will begin issuing written warnings and may issue citations for violating the camping ordinance if they encounter people who have already been warned.

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