Homelessness and homeless camping remain a major issue in Austin despite the city’s voters’ overwhelming rejection of the permissive camping policy Mayor Steve Adler and the city council approved in 2019. That policy allowed nearly unfettered camping citywide, leading very quickly to tent cities popping up in medians, under overpasses, and on sidewalks in front of businesses all over the city.
The city council has approved the purchase of hotels to house homeless people over the past couple of years, and going by Thursday’s meeting agenda addendum it’s set to buy another one. See item 89.
That’s the Candlewood Suites hotel in north Austin. Its proposed purchase by the city to house homeless people is already controversial, but Adler has refused to listen to the concerns of residents in the district.
The “Stop Candlewood” group says nearby business owners and homeowners have safety concerns. They’re asking for City Council to find another location for permanent supportive housing.
“We earnestly ask Council to explore an infinitely more economical and effective location that could serve three to four times as many people as the Candlewood Suites,” said Rupal Chaudhari, of Stop Candlewood.
In January, the city council approved buying a hotel to house homeless people and used money the 2020 council had taken from the police budget to pay for it. That hotel cost $6.7 million. In 2020 it purchased another hotel at a cost of just over $8 million despite the fact that it was appraised at $4.9 million. The Candlewood Suites will cost more than $9.5 million. Purchasing hotels takes them off the city’s tax rolls and puts them on the expense side of the ledger to operate them. Renovations to the hotels drive the full pricetag higher.
Item 85 on Thursday’s agenda calls for Austin to discuss similar purchases with surrounding counties including Williamson, to Austin’s north. That county is proactively opposing the Candlewood purchase and threatening to sue.
Williamson County commissioners threatened legal action June 8 against the city of Austin in its decision to purchase a hotel for homeless individuals.
Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said during a Commissioners Court meeting that the court intends to take legal action against the city if it moves forward with the action at its scheduled June 10 meeting.
Gravell directed staff to include the lawsuit for consideration by the court at its next meeting June 15.
The Candlewood Suites hotel that Austin is set to purchase is in District 6, which is in Councilwoman Mackenzie Kelly’s district. Adler’s move to purchase this particular hotel, at nearly $10 million and over the objections of district residents, is widely seen as a move to punish Kelly and the residents of District 6. She successfully unseated Democrat Jimmy Flannigan in a December 2020 runoff and then led the movement to get the homeless camping ordinance on the citywide ballot. The ordinance to reinstate the camping ban passed overwhelmingly, 58-42, on May 1. Adler campaigned hard alongside radical leftwing Council Member Greg Casar to keep the permissive camping policy in place.
The May 1 vote and rising violent crime after he successfully gutted the police budget have called Adler’s position into question. There’s little question that his woke agenda has hurt the city: police are leaving in droves, homicides are dramatically increasing, and the city continues to be blighted by homeless camps. The Texas legislature recently passed a bill that would defund cities that defund their police departments, a direct rebuke to Adler’s reckless policies. Gov. Greg Abbott has signed that bill into law. Adler also earned criticism when he told Austinites to stay home during holidays in the midst of the COVID pandemic, while he vacationed in Cabo.
Previous hotel purchases by the city have not dented the homeless population, estimated at about 20,000. Despite the reinstatement of the ban, which is being phased in, large tent cities remain across the city. Protesters are also now camping at city hall where camping was previously banned, as I noted in “Austin City Logic” last week. Kelly, a mom and former volunteer firefighter, has been repeatedly harassed by homeless activists at city hall.
I discussed this and other Austin public safety issues on local radio station KOKE-FM Tuesday morning.