Texas AG wades into Williamson County fight with Austin’s hotel purchase to house homeless

Williamson County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas attorney general’s office added its support to the fight brewing in Williamson County over the Austin City Council’s purchase of a hotel to eventually house people experiencing homelessness.

Aaron Reitz, the deputy attorney general for legal strategy, joined local leaders and business owners during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. He shared that Attorney General Ken Paxton is looking to “see what legal avenues there may be” to challenge Austin’s decision.

“At the last minute, without consulting anybody, without conducting an economic analysis, a safety and security analysis or a health analysis of its decisions, [the City Council] entered into a major contract and just sort of kicked the problem up to Williamson County,” Reitz said. “It’s not fair. It’s not just. It stinks.”

In a 10-1 vote, the Austin City Council approved the proposal to buy a hotel in northwest Austin on Feb. 4, a week later than the vote was originally planned. Plans call for the Candlewood Suites on Pecan Park Boulevard to provide 80 housing units for people experiencing homelessness.

Ahead of that vote, the Williamson County commissioners asked the council on Feb. 2 to hold off voting, citing there needed to be more discussion between the county and city council and more community engagement.

Additionally, Texas Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said he filed Senate Bill 646 Wednesday that would “require notification and coordination between a county and a city when it comes to addressing the homeless population would require.” According to the brief description posted online, the legislation would specifically require a county’s approval of a “proposed purchase or conversion by a municipality of a property to house homeless individuals.”

Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long said she supports Schwertner’s proposal.

“In a 10-1 vote, the city basically told Williamson County, ‘Take a hike,'” Long said during the Wednesday news conference.

During their meeting Tuesday, the county commissioners approved having their general counsel propose an engagement agreement with a law firm to represent Williamson County in potential legal action against the City of Austin.

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell threatened Wednesday that a lawsuit would be filed.

“I want to say this unequivocally clear to the City of Austin: don’t mess with Williamson County,” Gravell said. “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.”

When asked later what specific legal action the attorney general could take to prevent Austin from taking this type of action, Reitz would only speak generally.

“Attorney General Paxton has devoted the resources, the attorneys, the time, the bandwidth in our office to explore all options,” Reitz said.

The news conference Wednesday happened outside the Hampton Inn, located at 10811 Pecan Park Blvd., in Austin, next to Candlewood Suites.

Rupal Chaudhari, whose family owns the Hampton Inn and another nearby hotel, said she appreciated all of the efforts discussed Wednesday.

“We are not against homeless, but what our problem is is the location,” Chaudhari said.

Freda Cheng, who owns Freda’s Seafood Grille next to the Candlewood Suites, asked the City of Austin to reconsider its plans for the hotel.

“It’s going to totally destroy my business,” she said.

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