City of Austin looking to buy Rodeway Inn on I-35 to house homeless

Texas First Lady Cecelia Abbott delivered blankets to a new temporary homeless campsite in east Austin opened at the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott last week.

Robert Rhodes is thankful for the place to lay his head. He says he was in the woods before.

"I was talking to her, telling her about how glad I am for this and tell her to tell the Governor I said 'thank you' for this. This is so awesome. He is cool as ever man, this is cool," Rhodes said.

Rhodes is staying in a covered area with a tarp blocking the harsh winds.

Meanwhile at City Hall, the Austin City Council heard from Ending Community Homelessness Coalition executive director Matt Mollica about projects they're working on with the City to address the homeless issue. Mayor Adler asked him about Abbott's camp and another coalition called ATX Helps. 

"Is what the State is doing and what the chamber is doing inconsistent with the strategy that we're focusing on here with the motels?" Adler asked.  

Mollica says it's not inconsistent. 

"I think what it doesn't do is address the long-term need for permanent supportive housing," Mollica said. 

On Thursday, Council is expected to vote on a plan to buy the Rodeway Inn on I-35 in South Austin to start housing people. Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales indicated the proposed and controversial "South Austin Housing Center" on Ben White is no longer happening.

"Just to be clear with the Council, we are pursuing the motels as the strategy, we won't be pursuing the South Austin Housing Center," Gonzales said.

The City says the Ben White property would have needed significant renovations to be shelter-ready.

"More quickly and effectively from a cost standpoint, doing what we've talked about with the South Austin Housing Center, so…we've just found a better location. And combined that better location with a path for future locations, looking at motels," said Council Member Ann Kitchen.

The City is looking at spending $8 million on the hotel, including closing costs and renovation. A City spokesperson says the nearly 32,000-square-foot building has 87 rooms.

"This type of bridge housing resource, the very low barrier access for people to get inside -- people experiencing homelessness have identified hotels as places where they're willing to go to get inside that maybe they wouldn't have accessed typical shelter spaces before," Mollica said.

Mollica says the hotel will provide immediate relief for people. Some may want to stay longer.

"I think over time what you've seen in these types of locations is the typical length of stay can be about 90 days so if you extrapolate that out you're looking at potentially serving 320 households. If there's only one person per unit.  In some cases there will be partners," Mollica said.  

Rhodes says buying hotels is a great idea.

"I hope to be the first one to be in there! If I'm here still, I want to be the first one to be in there," Rhodes said.

This may be the first of several hotels the City buys to address homelessness.

Mollica says if Council approves this on Thursday he's hoping to start getting some folks in there as early as next week.