AUSTIN (KXAN) — A city leader addressed the May 5 break-in at a northwest Austin hotel the city bought last year to turn into housing for the homeless.
District 6 council member Mackenzie Kelly, who represents the area the hotel is located, called it “appalling.”
“This act of criminal behavior is not OK,” she said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
In August 2021, Austin City Council moved to buy the Candlewood Suites on Pecan Park Boulevard to transform into permanent supportive housing for the homeless population. The goal was to convert the hotel into 80 rooms, as part of the city’s HEAL initiative or Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link.
The city said the “facility is designed for individuals living with disabilities who need housing assistance and ongoing support as they exit long-term homelessness.”
A city spokesperson told KXAN the facility is “currently vacant” as it awaits renovations. It “introduced regular security patrols” after a trespassing incident on May 5.
“The city intended to implement routine security monitoring earlier this year. However, due to a delay in processing the request, security had not been initiated at the site,” according to a memo that addressed the City’s security strategy following the break-in.
The memo states security will now patrol the facility “day and night.”
According to the city’s Homeless Strategy Division, occupants should fill in late this year or early next year. On May 19, city council is set to approve a contract with Family Eldercare to start work on the former Candlewood Suites building to make the necessary renovations to convert it to a transitional facility.
The renovations are expected to take around six months, the spokesperson said.
The Homeless Strategy Division said this will be a permanent supportive housing (PSH) facility, meaning it’s designated for individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness and live with a disability. Staff will provide services to these individuals including intensive case management and other “wrap-around” support.
There’s also a plan to track residents’ progress. The city said staff will keep tabs on residents’ stabilization. A spokesperson also said “while many residents may move on to fully independent living, the intention of PSH is to provide a long-term home.”
Earlier this week, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell released photos he said residents sent him of a homeless encampment near the hotel.
A Williamson County spokesperson said the photos were taken less than 100 yards from Candlewood Suites.
Gravell also released the following statement along with the photos:
“I am deeply disappointed that once again the city of Austin has made decisions regarding their property in Williamson County without involving Williamson County leadership in coming up with solutions. I have heard from our residents that Austin’s property has brought crime to their neighborhood. They sent me pictures of what is going on in their neighborhood. The city of Austin made their problem Williamson County’s problem, so I promise our residents that I will work to find a solution. Our residents deserve to not live in fear.”
KXAN reached out to the City of Austin asking for a response to Gravell’s comment and received the following response:
“The City-owned former Candlewood Suites hotel on Pecan Park Boulevard is currently vacant awaiting renovations that will convert it to permanent supportive housing. Yesterday, following a trespassing incident on May 5, the City took action to secure the site and introduced regular security patrols. Additionally, the City is seeking to arrange on-site 24-hour security, which would stay in place until the facility is ready to open as supportive housing. Building improvements will begin soon and are expected to take about six months.”
Austin has carried out the same conversion strategy using at least two other hotels, called the Northbridge and Southbridge shelters, which both opened their doors last summer.
However, there’s been pushback regarding the Candlewood Suites sale in particular.
Last March, the Chaudhari Partnership, a small business located near Candlewood, sued the City of Austin to try and stop the hotel conversion plan. Protesters were concerned about how the hotel would impact the surrounding community.
When council approved the sale last year, Kelly said in a statement she was “disheartened” by the hotel’s purchase, saying Austin leaders did not do enough to address community concerns before making a decision.