City council approves $864,000 for temporary high-risk COVID-19 housing in north Austin


AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday, Austin City Council approved $864,000 for a sixth protective lodge to provide additional housing and isolation space for high-risk populations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote gave city council the option to occupy the La Quinta Inn off North Interstate 35 and East Highway 290 for 60 days, followed by two 30-day terms, if needed. The hotel would provide 120 guest rooms for emergency and supportive housing.

The intent is that a majority of the funds used to lease the hotel will be reimbursed with CARES Act and FEMA money, though the facility will only be used if the city’s other five protective lodges are filled.

Council Member Kathie Tovo commended city staff for their work in finding immediate, emergency housing for high-risk populations in Austin but questioned whether federal dollars would be better served by purchasing a facility that could later be used for long-term bridge housing for people experiencing homelessness.

“In the end, we are renting these facilities,” Tovo said during the meeting. “I know it’s of interest and a goal of yours to identify protective lodges that might be available for purchase, and I just want to again urge that be uppermost in mind.”

For more than a year, the city has worked to find and acquire bridge housing units for those in the community experiencing homelessness. Tovo said by using federal funds for temporary housing, which could also be used for long-term bridge housing, the city could achieve two of its goals.

“That’s not actually out of pocket for the City of Austin,” said Matt Mollica, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.

The city has spent more than $9.4 million on five protective lodges so far this year — that includes one facility purchased using Community Development Block Grant Funding from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and another facility that is under contract for purchase. A city spokesperson said the city does not intend to utilize FEMA or CARES Act funds for reimbursement.

While permanent bridge housing could also be used for protective lodging during the pandemic, it would be more costly and the facilities, like extended stay hotels, would likely take longer for the City to acquire, something Tovo acknowledged.

“I hope by the end of the year we have hundreds of these units that are permanently available to us in this community to help us with providing everyone a good a safe place to be,” Mayor Steve Adler said.

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