Travis County Commissioners will consider allocating $ 110 million in federal relief funds to build homes for homeless people in Austin – a potentially significant investment to help address the city’s homelessness crisis .
Under the plan put to the vote on Tuesday, the funds would go to the construction of a dozen projects that would total more than 2,000 new homes. This would be an important part of a community goal set earlier this year of 3,000 new housing units over the next three years for people who are homeless.
The plan is sponsored by two commissioners – Ann Howard and Margaret Gómez – meaning that only one additional yes vote would be required among the three remaining members of the tribunal for approval. The vote is expected to take place before noon on Tuesday at the Court of Commissioners meeting.
If the commissioners voted to allocate such a large amount of stimulus spending to housing, that would be a change in strategy for the county. The majority of commissioners have already said they are willing to pay for homelessness-related services – such as rent subsidies and mental health and addiction treatment – but not explicitly for housing.
The $ 110 million funding comes from the US federal bailout law – the second of two federal stimulus programs during the coronavirus pandemic. Travis County received $ 247 million from the program and had broad discretion over how to spend it.
In a conversation Monday with the American-Statesman editorial board, Austin Mayor Steve Adler highly appreciated the county’s proposal.
“I am certainly encouraged by the leadership that the county has indicated it will consider in this area,” said Adler. “I want to make sure the whole community is doing everything they can to help keep up with this.”
Council member Kathie Tovo also praised the county for factoring in spending on housing. “Overall, this level of investment is essential. I am very excited to see the proposals and I think these investments would have a very big impact in helping thousands of people in this community to obtain safe and stable housing, ”she said.
County’s initial reluctance to spend money on housing caught the attention of Austin City Council members, who challenged their county counterparts in June. In assessing how to spend its own federal funds, the council agreed to allocate $ 106 million for homeless services, but with one notable stipulation: all but $ 23 million would remain locked in a contingency fund until which other members of the community, including Travis County, have agreed to contribute $ 200 million to the effort.
The county’s $ 110 million would reduce that remaining need to $ 90 million and appear to shift the burden onto businesses, private donors and nonprofits.
Spending on homeless services is tied to a goal set at a summit of community leaders to add 3,000 housing units over the next three years. The cost is estimated at $ 515 million, taking into account both capital and operating expenses. A large part, $ 222 million, is already accounted for through committed and anticipated funds independent of any federal spending.
The county’s $ 110 million would fund these projects:
- Burleson Village, a new supportive housing community through Foundation Communities and Mobile Loaves & Fishes / Community First! Town. The cost to serve 700 residents is $ 50 million and must be matched by $ 50 million in private donations. The village will span 76 acres at 7905 Burleson Road that a private donor donated to Mobile Loaves & Fishes.
- Foundation Communities says it needs $ 6.5 million to acquire property in North Austin, on Lamar Boulevard and Braker Lane. The Foundation has budgeted for $ 20 million. The plan is to establish an apartment community with 100 affordable units. On-site services would include case managers, parent support, after-school care and a pantry.
- Six to eight new affordable housing communities serving 1,000 new residents. As with Burleson Village, it would cost $ 50 million. Half of the communities would be west of Interstate 35. The money is requested by the Austin Area Urban League, Caritas, Family Eldercare, Integral Care, LifeWorks and SAFE Alliance.
- Two hundred additional small house units at the state-owned Camp Esperanza in southeast Austin. Each house would house one or two people. The Other Ones Foundation, which runs the camp, is asking the county for $ 3 million. In addition to the mini-houses, it plans to provide accommodation and support services to 300 additional people with the aim of rehousing 400 to 475 people per year.
American-Statesman editor Nicole Foy contributed to this report.