Texas House committee taking up homeless legislation

On Wednesday, a Texas House committee is set to take up legislation that would make it harder for cities like Austin to buy hotels and convert them into housing for people experiencing homelessness.

The House Urban Affairs Committee will take up legislation to require county officials to sign off on any proposed purchase or conversion of such a property—and force cities to do a better job of notifying neighbors. 

This is largely in response to Austin’s $9.5 million purchase of the Candlewood Inn and Suites on Pecan Park Boulevard to house the homeless. That hotel sits on a sliver of Austin that is part of Williamson County



A similar bill was debated in a Senate committee last month, filed by Sen. Charles Schwertner, whose district includes that Northwest Austin hotel. 

He, along with Williamson County Commissioners and Judge Bill Gravell, says cities like Austin need to be more transparent about projects like this. 

This action at the state level comes as the City of Austin finalizes its plan to kick off the HEAL Initiative, which would essentially ban homeless camping in parts of the city, and less than a month before voters weigh in on a petition-led proposal to reinstate a total ban on homeless camping.

"This bill is a major setback for ending homelessness. It contains red tape and delays that will make it more difficult for the city to acquire permanent housing solutions on the market. More broadly, with housing costs skyrocketing in the Austin MSA, any effort to hamper the ability of cities to develop affordable housing, which may or may not be used for homelessness, is a mistake," said  Austin Mayor Steve Adler. "Those of us committed to ending the tents in our city, in favor of safe, dignified housing, are opposed to HB1803. We cannot effectively end living in tents unless we give folks a safe, legal alternative. Making it even harder for cities to acquire permanent housing, by building in a county approval process without bounds and the potential for infinite delay, helps no one." 

Adler added: "We urge state lawmakers to at least consider revisions to the bill that would require county commissioners to consider and take action on a City’s request for approval for permanent housing solutions within 60 days of plans being submitted."

That vote is slated for May 1.