Williamson County leaders, neighbors talk about supporting homeless housing bill

Williamson County

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County leaders and residents are speaking in support Wednesday of legislation that one official called the “Austin-should-be-a-good-neighbor bill.”

Texas Rep. Terry Wilson, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell and Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long held a joint news conference Wednesday afternoon outside the Texas Capitol to talk about proposed legislation on homeless housing.

The bill, House Bill 1803, is aimed directly at the City of Austin’s plan to buy the Candlewood Suites hotel in Williamson County, and in Austin city limits, and convert it into housing for people experiencing homelessness.

“If a city wants to open a facility like this in a county, they need to communicate with their neighbors,” Long said.

The bill, if approved, would require county approval for any municipality purchasing property that has plans to convert it to house homeless people.

The Austin City Council voted to buy the hotel 10-1 on Feb. 4, setting off a chain reaction of protests, lawsuits and other disputes involving Williamson County leadership and Austin City Council.

“Not one of you has taken time to call the Williamson County judge about what you desire to do in the community,” Gravell said Wednesday.

Testimony in support of the bill will also come from Rupal Chaudhari, a hotel owner who filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin for its decision to purchase a property near hers. During Wednesday’s news conference, Chaudhari said the city responded to her lawsuit, and now she’s trying to secure a date for a hearing.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement Wednesday that this particular bill would be a “major setback for ending homelessness.”

“It contains red tape and delay that will make it more difficult for the city to acquire permanent housing solutions on the market,” Adler’s statement read.

“Those of us committed to ending the tents in our city, in favor of safe, dignified housing, are opposed to HB1803,” the statement continued. “We cannot effectively end living in tents unless we give folks a safe, legal alternative. Making it even harder for cities to acquire permanent housing, by building in a county approval process without bounds and the potential for infinite delay, helps no one.”

Gravell previously promised a fight if the Austin City Council didn’t want to talk about it first.

“I want you to know that Williamson County will use any and all resources to protect our citizenry. You have stepped over the line without coming to the table and having a conversation. I’m willing to have that conversation, but if you are not, we will take you to a conversation in the local courthouse, and you will not be pleased with the outcome,” he said at a news conference Feb. 10.

Adler said the city had to act quickly to secure the building that would give the city 80 units to put people in and help alleviate the ongoing homelessness issues the city faces.

“The homelessness crisis, which is only growing in the pandemic, requires us to act now,” Adler said. “Real, permanent homes for people without housing is necessary and overdue. Leaving folks to camp on the street and under highways, with no humane alternative, is neither right nor safe.”

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