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Council approves funding for isolation hotel

Friday, September 4, 2020 by Jo Clifton

After a brief discussion about the need to continue the search for temporary and permanent housing for Austinites experiencing homelessness, City Council unanimously approved an agreement with the owner of the La Quinta Inn at 5812 N. Interstate 35 Thursday.

The agreement gives the city the option to rent 120 guest rooms for emergency housing and patient isolation related to the Covid-19 pandemic for a 60-day term, plus an option to extend for two additional 30-day terms. If the city uses the hotel for that length of time, the ultimate price tag would be $864,000. The hotel would be the city’s second isolation facility, though it may not be needed.

Before the Council meeting, Council Member Alison Alter asked for a rundown on existing isolation facilities and protective lodges.

In response to her request, Council received a memo describing both protective housing and isolation facilities. According to that memo, the city is using General Fund emergency reserve money to pay for several hotels, including the Crowne Plaza Hotel at 6121 N. I-35, which offers 292 guest rooms. The initial occupancy date was March 25 and to date the city has spent more than $4 million to house people needing isolation as a result of the pandemic. The contract approved Thursday would give the city a second isolation facility if needed.

According to the memo, the city is expecting reimbursement from federal CARES Act funding and additional funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for both. The memo also describes temporary and long-term housing the city is renting or has purchased.

Protective Lodge #1 is providing 129 guest rooms at the La Quinta at 4200 S. I-35. This lodge is described as being for temporary occupancy only and has cost the city more than $1.3 million since April 1.

Protective Lodge #2 is at 8010 N. I-35. This Motel 6 has provided 71 guest rooms since April 10 and is for temporary occupancy only. To date the city has spent more than $637,000 for rooms at the motel.

Protective Lodge #3 at 3105 N. I-35 provides 65 guest rooms for temporary occupancy only. The city has spent more than $637,000 on this Days Inn since April 25, according to the city memo.

The city also has a contract to purchase the Country Inn and Suites at 7400 N. I-35. Unlike the other properties, the city is buying this property for about $500,000 for permanent supportive housing. The city also owns property at 2711 S. I-35, which has been a Rodeway Inn. The city purchased this property as permanent supportive housing and to be a bridge for the homeless with federal funding of more than $6.3 million.

Council Member Kathie Tovo reminded Alex Gale, the city’s real estate officer, of Council’s desire to provide more permanent housing. She hoped that some of the rental money the city is spending could become more of a down payment to purchase properties.

Mayor Steve Adler also reiterated the need to “help people move off of the streets and (out of) tents and into homes, because we don’t want anybody having to camp anywhere in our city.” He expressed the hope that the city could leverage the money that’s coming in into permanent housing. “Hopefully, by the end of the year we’ll have hundreds of these rooms,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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