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County pledges more than $100 million to eradicate homelessness in three years

Wednesday, September 15, 2021 by Seth Smalley

On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court committed $110 million in federal funding toward housing the homeless. The money, sourced from a $247 million chunk of the American Rescue Plan Act funds designated for county assistance, will likely be administered via dozens of nonprofits, including Mobile Loaves and Fishes, Caritas of Austin, Integral Care, LifeWorks and many others.

“City and county officials have come together and set a goal to rehouse 3,000 people over the next three years,” Commissioner Margaret Gómez said.

The funds will be used to build free and affordable housing units, as well as bolster existing strategies to protect people from homelessness, consistent with the Treasury requirements for ARPA use.

Scores of advocates and stakeholder groups applauded the resolution, though a few brought up issues with its procedure, which they say excludes the community when it comes to actual allocation decisions.

“Today, the Commissioners Court approved $110 million of funds to address the issue of housing and homelessness in our community. This innovative, community-led effort reflects our values and commitment to making everyone safer,” County Judge Andy Brown said in a statement.

The idea was first raised months earlier when the city of Austin conditionally committed $84 million toward solving homelessness with the stipulation that the county match the funds. At the time, Commissioner Ann Howard raised the issue to the Commissioners Court and Brown proposed devoting at least $100 million of ARPA funding toward it. “I get that we don’t want others driving the conversation for us,” Brown said, referring to the pressure on the county from City Council’s conditional pledge, “but do we say that there’s some amount that we would like to spend on this general concept?”

Tuesday’s motion was brought forward by commissioners Gómez and Howard. While Gómez proposed the initial resolution to commit the $110 million, Howard – sporting an “End Homelessness” face mask – suggested provisions in the resolution for a community engagement process and to increase equity for disadvantaged communities.

“We can only do this if the federal dollars allow the use for each project and how that project wants to use the money. So to make sure everything is allowed, we’re still waiting from the Treasury on some questions,” Howard said.

“We had the good fortune of getting federal funds into this community. And what better way than to use those funds to make a real dent into probably the most serious social issue that I’ve seen for quite a while,” Gómez said to the court.

Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion indicated support for the intent and volume of the $100 million commitment but, as he has done in the past, expressed skepticism, calling for the need for more specifics with regard to the administration and implementation of the resolution.

Travillion nevertheless voted in favor of the resolution and it passed unanimously, provisions included.

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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