Neighbors share concerns as City Council approves hotel purchase for homeless

The Austin City Council voted Thursday to approve spending $8 million on buying a Rodeway Inn in South Austin to house the homeless. That number includes closing costs and renovation.

The City says projects like this will happen instead of the proposed and controversial South Austin Housing Center on Ben White.

Henri Daumas, president of the Timber Ridge Homeowners Association in South Austin, says his neighborhood is about 150 yards from a group of hotels they feel are surrounded by what they see as crime and drug issues.

"That whole area there is very, very seedy," Daumas said.  

According to the Austin Police "crime viewer" tool, since July there have been three robberies, two aggravated assaults, five burglaries and 78 other crimes, including possession of a controlled substance, criminal mischief, public intoxication, and assault, in the area.

"This also came up in the gun violence task force that the data is showing that the gun violence is happening in close proximity to these hotels," said Council Member Alison Alter.  

"I hope that the City's involvement and ownership of that property will really be an improvement in that area. I think that we'll be able to provide a level of safety that sounds like doesn't exist," said Council Member Kathie Tovo.                 

Daumas says Timber Ridge just spent a couple million dollars to revitalize the neighborhood. They see this as a step back.

"If they're going to do this, if they could just clean out all three hotels and do the same for all three, now that would be progress," Daumas said.  

After the council discussion, Daumas told us he thinks the City's involvement may not be as bad as he thought though.

"I'm in favor of helping the homeless, it's just that we have to know exactly how this is going to be done because we know it has not been done correctly everywhere," he said. 

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition will run the shelter and executive director Matt Mollica says there will be no camping outside and they'll only take referrals.  

"Services on site will be provided to those that are living in the space, it won't be a space for people to congregate and you won't gain access to the space by showing up there so it won't be a place for someone to come and camp or be in that area at all," Mollica said.       

The hotel purchase passed unanimously. Mayor Steve Adler reassured the neighbors who came to City Hall.

"I promise you personally that I will come out there as this opens to be with you on-site regularly so that we can talk about whether or not the concerns you're expressing today are realizing," Adler said.

Now the city will do 60 days of due diligence, making sure the property is in good condition, but ECHO and Adler are hoping to start getting some people in there before then.