Some Austin neighbors worry one property slated for affordable housing may become a tent city


AUSTIN (KXAN) — We’re hearing from neighbors after the City of Austin released its preliminary list of potential sites for sanctioned camping. They could be converted for anyone experiencing homelessness.

There are currently 45 city-owned sites, but the city insists none of those are final yet. One is on Ryan Drive in central Austin, near Lamar and Airport Boulevard right next to the Crestview MetroRail station.

The city says it has been holding community discussions about the property since 2012, and documents indicate a request for proposals closed in March.

“I definitely was shocked,” said Beth Knapp, who has lived in the neighborhood for eight years and attended three public forums about the development on Ryan Drive.

“We were expecting apartments and different elements for affordable housing,” she said.

The city’s request for proposals indicates property goals included mixed-income housing, with at least half of the rentals made affordable.

Knapp and other neighbors said they were surprised when the city listed the land as a possible site for a homeless encampment that would possibly look like an open-air one in Colorado, according to the city’s presentation on Tuesday.

A slide from Tuesday's presentation shows an example of an encampment in Denver, Colorado. (City of Austin)
A slide from Tuesday’s presentation shows an example of an encampment in Denver, Colorado. (City of Austin)

“I definitely know I would not want to see a tent community,” Knapp said. “Not just saying, ‘Here’s a space for your tent,’ but actually providing services, access to health care.”

Neighbor Jon Copp, who has lived in the neighborhood for five years, agreed.

“I don’t think allowing open camping is the solution here. The city needs to step up and find ways to support people without homes, not just designate open camping areas,” he said. “We need to help them find housing, whether it’s permanent or not.”

KXAN spoke with a developer for one of those affordable housing proposals. He said the city didn’t tell him it would be listed as a possible encampment. He was expecting to hear back from them about his proposal in July.

“One presentation we’ve seen from a developer has included clinics, child care, things like that,” said Knapp, who wants to see more than basic services, which the city said would include lighting and restrooms.

6909 Ryan Drive
The City of Austin had slated this property for affordable housing but now, it’s listed it as a possible site for a homeless camp. (KXAN/Tahera Rahman)

She also wants those community forums to continue so neighbors can stay informed.

“Having those community outreach meetings not just allow us to voice what we would want to see, but we can hear why decisions are made, what the purpose is and research has shown,” Knapp said.

KXAN reached out to the city and asked if affordable housing plans that have been discussed for the Ryan Drive property would be scrapped for a city-sanctioned homeless encampment.

They didn’t answer the question, instead sending the following statement:

“The sites identified in today’s presentation to Mayor and Council are preliminary locations. The lists we have provided are only a snapshot of the sites where we have done the initial analysis that Council requested. These sites are not final and the list will most certainly change. Some locations may come off, and others may be added, as part of an ongoing examination of potential sites. Staff will continue analyzing properties and will work to present Council with an update in June.”

City of Austin spokesperson

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