Mayor proposes plan to have tourists pay for housing Austin's homeless

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has a new plan he said could raise $30 million for putting the homeless in homes.

It involves raising hotel taxes a little but Adler said hotels are on board as long as an expanded convention center is on the table.

But the ARCH stays right where it is.

"There are a lot of plans we've wanted to have done in this city that we can actually now get done," Adler said. 

The plan requires establishing a Tourism Public Improvement District a $4 million a year revenue stream for homelessness that will double in 2021. 

The Mayor said that will come from a 1 to 2% increase in the hotel tax paid by tourists.

"Let me tell you what this does not do.  This does not raise property taxes; it does not shrink the tax base.  In fact it expands it," Adler said. 

Visit Austin is in support.

"Our hospitality and tourism industry stands behind the report and what the Mayor's trying to do," said Visit Austin CEO Tom Noonan.

Homeless advocates like ECHO and "House the Homeless" are too.  If the plan is approved, we asked them what the homeless situation in Austin might be like in 5 years.

"So within 5 years we will have housed the people who are chronically homeless and be working on just folks who fall into homelessness and help get them back," said ECHO's Ann Howard.

"It's always about money, resource question.  And it's possible that we can get a handle on the situation and we could for all intents and purposes end homelessness in Austin, that's absolutely correct," said HTH's Richard Troxell.

But the Mayor's plan doesn't include moving the ARCH away from downtown, just making improvements to it.

"There is no doubt that the area around the ARCH is dangerous and we need to fix that and the way that I think you fix that is you right-size the function of the ARCH so that it's not trying to do more than what it was designed to do. 

So you bring in the resources so that when somebody goes into the ARCH they get triaged, they get given services and support and then get moved to housing opportunities," Adler said.

Ken Casaday with the Austin Police Association said the safety factor at the ARCH has been better lately but it's still not where it needs to be.

"Our organized crime unit and narcotics units and the officers that work downtown has been spending hundreds of hours, man hours down there trying to work with that problem.  Since we had the uptick in the epidemic in K2 overdoses several months back, we've really kind of got that under control," Casaday said. 

Casaday has historically wanted to see the ARCH moved but they want to comb through the mayor's plan before they take a stance.

Council member Ellen Troxclair told Fox 7 in a statement:

"There are many ways to solve this 'puzzle' and the Mayor's proposal is a good way to start the community conversation about all of the options.  Whether or not to expand the convention center is an important, $600M question that should be made based on its own merits.  Separately, reducing property taxes by using tourist dollars (instead of property tax dollars) to fund priorities like parks, the arts, and tourist attractions should be a part of this conversation.  The bottom line is that the city has a huge pot of money from hotel taxes with or without the convention center expansion, and we should maximize our return on these dollars in a way that benefits both our existing residents and the city as a whole."

By the way, other areas that will benefit from the Mayor's plan: historic preservation, Austin music and the arts as well as Waller Creek.
This plan is not a done deal yet, council has to approve it.  The Mayor hopes that will happen in late August.