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Real estate group’s $1M donation will help fuel expansion plans for Community First! Village

Wednesday, February 5, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

A $1 million donation from the Austin Board of Realtors will help the Community First! Village of Austin with its plans to expand and add more homes for the chronically homeless throughout Austin.

In an announcement made Monday, the professional organization’s charitable foundation will provide $100,000 per year over 10 years to the village operated by Mobile Loaves & Fishes. Some of the money will be used to construct a park that will link residents in the first phase and the under-construction second phase that, when completed, will bring the total number of tiny homes on the Northeast Austin site to 550.

Romeo Manzanilla, president of ABOR, said there is more interest than ever in finding ways to house and assist the city’s homeless population, and Community First! has set itself apart in that mission.

“Over the past several months many Austinites have begun to pull together to help those in need by donating time, money, resources, and through those efforts today we find ourselves here as the Austin Board of Realtors to pledge $1 million, which is the largest pledge in the foundation’s history, to Community First! Village,” he said. “You can see how meticulous this master-planned community is in terms of the rollout, how it’s been planned and the execution of it … it’s really inspiring.”

Alan Graham, founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, said he expects that up to 1,500 people will be assisted into permanent housing over the 10-year course of the ABOR donation.

“I believe that we in the city of Austin can be the first city ever to mitigate this to a point that is really and truly going to be manageable,” he said. “What’s going on out on our street corners and underneath our bridges right now is not acceptable and as a human issue we should all jump out there and care in a very deep way. This (donation) is a manifestation of that caring.”

Graham said the donation came into being during this summer’s debate over homelessness after City Council voted to relax prohibitions on resting and camping in public places. He said a meeting with area real estate broker Cord Shiflet led to more advanced discussions with ABOR, with some members of that group helping Graham in his search for property for the next two phases of Community First’s expansion.

He is still undecided on whether those phases will be located near the current village’s 51 acres or elsewhere in the city. Graham hopes to have the next spots secured within two years so construction can begin as soon as the second phase is completed.

Graham’s work in helping the area’s homeless population is often held up as an example of how the city should focus its efforts. He said he’s in frequent communication with staff members and management at City Hall regarding ways to help people living on the streets.

“We’re very laser-focused on what we do and who we do it with in terms of the chronically homeless, and I think that laser focus makes people confident in our ability to move the needle in this city,” he said. “Periodically we have conversations with people, like the city manager and his team came out last week. We’re here to let the city know we can help the city out … we’ll see where that leads.”

Manzanilla said his group will continue its work with other housing-related groups such as Habitat for Humanity, and that Graham has shown through the years he knows how best to use the money and resources given to his organizations.

“Having sat down with Alan and seeing his overall plan with the evolution of the different phases, that money is going to be readily available for him to fulfill what he has laid out,” he said. “As a foundation we want to concentrate our efforts on this because it has proved to be a viable solution that has resulted in great results.”

Photo by Chad Swiatecki.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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