AUSTIN, Texas - The Housing Authority of the City of Austin has secured more than $20 million worth of federal funds for voucher programs fighting homelessness.
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."
The full statement is as follows:
"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 spokesperson for the authority 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 full statement is as follows:
"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."
"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 President and CEO of the authority, Michael Gerber.
The authority spokesperson tells FOX 7 Austin that when the federal waiver expires the authority will return to it’s old screening protocol.
The vouchers will be available February 1, but the spokesperson says the process of moving people out of the Protective Lodges will "take some time."
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.