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On the heels of Prop B, housing committee supports rehousing 3,000 people in 3 years

Tuesday, May 4, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

The Housing and Planning Committee on Monday supported the main goal of Austin’s recent homelessness summit – rehousing 3,000 people experiencing homelessness within three years. 

The committee voted unanimously to recommend City Council approve a resolution turning the goal, created by community groups attending the summit, into official city policy. Council will vote on the resolution May 20. 

The push for more housing comes just two days after voters approved Proposition B, which reinstates criminal penalties for activities related to homelessness such as camping, sleeping and panhandling in downtown, part of East Austin, West Campus and UT. The laws will go into effect on May 11. 

Council members say the city’s existing housing goals, expressed in the Strategic Housing Blueprint, aren’t enough. “For far too long, we have had our goals far too low for housing people experiencing homelessness,” Council Member Greg Casar said. 

A key part of the three-year plan involves creating 1,000 permanent supportive homes – a target Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey called “ambitious.” 

This year, around 165 permanent supportive units are in production. The resolution aims to find funds for at least 350 more units per year beginning in 2022 to reach the 1,000-unit goal. While some of the homes could be newly built, including through the Community First Village expansion, many are likely to come from the city’s hotel purchase and renovation strategy.

The resolution also aims to bring 2,300 rental units to the market for people experiencing homelessness. The city hopes the increased housing stock will create an “equilibrium” to help the city find housing within 30 days for anyone who is experiencing homelessness. 

Below is a more detailed timeline:

To get to 1,000 units, Grey said the city needs to speed things up, despite making progress this year. “We know we need to accelerate our development production,” she said. 

Whether housing production keeps up with the goals largely depends on securing funding.

The three-year budget set at the summit totals $515 million. Out of that, capital projects – mostly for permanent supportive housing – take up $275 million, with $150 million either committed or anticipated. That leaves a $125 million funding gap.

Potential funding sources include President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, private donations or a new local bond election, among others.

“I do hope that everyone ready, able and willing to partner with us will step up to affirm that commitment,” Council Member Paige Ellis said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Casar said he has seen broad support for finding housing for people experiencing homelessness – no matter how Austinites voted on Prop B. “What I found in virtually every single conversation (about Prop B),” Casar said, “especially when you had some time to talk, was that the vast majority of people are not divided on the issue of pulling folks out of tents and into housing.”

Council also plans to discuss more immediate solutions this week, such as setting up designated campsites. 

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