$23M in new resources announced for homeless in Austin

$23 million in new resources has been announced for those living in temporary shelters and for homeless families in Austin.

Mayor Steve Adler and the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) announced Friday two new resources to aid the homeless currently residing in temporary shelters and to build and finance new housing for the homeless.

More than a million dollars of that funding comes from the CARES Coronavirus Relief Act. It will help secure permanent supportive housing for 100 of the more than 300 people living in Austin's 5 protective lodges, also known as "ProLodges."



"Those motels that originally we were going to open up as permanent supportive housing, but instead we had to devote them to help keep the community safe during a pandemic," explained Austin Mayor Steve Adler. 

The housing authority has significantly reduced criminal background screening requirements for the program, telling FOX 7 Austin in a statement that they "will only deny admission to sex offenders with a lifetime registration requirement and people convicted of cooking meth in a federally assisted housing unit."

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"For the Mainstream program only, we used to deny admission for lots of different felony convictions. Under this waiver, we only will deny admission to sex offenders with a lifetime registration requirement and people convicted of cooking meth in a federally assisted housing unit.

When the waiver expires we'll go back to normal screening where we deny for assaults and theft and patterns of domestic violence charges, etc.

We eliminated all lookback periods for all convictions except the two mentioned above. Those two charges are the only two that HUD requires us to deny admission for. Anyone with those convictions cannot be admitted to the program regardless of when the offense occurred." 

A HACA spokesperson tells FOX 7 Austin the rollback means those convicted of homicide, repeated domestic violence, assault and other felony crimes will be accepted unless they are also lifetime registered sex offenders or convicted of producing meth in a federal housing facility:

"The Mainstream program will not deny admission to those people unless they are also lifetime registered sex offenders and/or were also convicted of producing meth on the premises of federally assisted housing. But these new Mainstream vouchers will be prioritized for non-elderly disabled persons residing in Protective Lodging (ProLodge). The Protective Lodging Facilities (ProLodges) consist of 5 motels used by the City of Austin to temporarily shelter vulnerable individuals at high risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and/or severely negative outcomes (based on CDC guidance) who cannot self-isolate, including persons experiencing homelessness." 

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"At the very core of it, everybody deserves to be safe and a home in which to be safe and that's what we're striving for with this program," said HACA President and CEO Michael Gerber. 

The authority spokesperson tells FOX 7 Austin that when the federal waiver expires, the authority will return to its old screening protocol. 

The vouchers will be available on February 1, but the spokesperson says the process of moving people out of the Protective Lodges will "take some time." 

The Mainstream voucher program is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to assist homeless, non-elderly persons with disabilities, according to HACA. An individual issued a voucher can locate a home in the private rental market. A housing subsidy is paid directly to the property owner/manager, and the household pays between 30-40% of their income for rent.

Eligibility for the Mainstream program requires that the household's income not exceed 50% of the Austin metropolitan area median income, according to HACA.

To address the long-term need for permanent supportive housing for the homeless, HACA is also announcing the availability of 100 project-based vouchers to create new housing opportunities. These vouchers are being made available through a request for proposal process to develop new permanent supportive housing or the rehabilitation of existing housing to serve the homeless, says HACA.

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The authority also secured more than a million dollars in project-based vouchers each year, for twenty years from HUD. "Vouchers you can give to a permanent supportive housing project that’s either being built new or its a conversion, it's something we could use perhaps to put another hotel or two into operation to get people off the street," said Adler.

HACA says it plans to make an award of vouchers to selected developments in February and March. The rent paid to assist homeless families, and the vouchers' value over the twenty-year period is expected to exceed $22 million. Any qualified organization seeking to serve the homeless and access project-based vouchers can visit the HACA website.