City Council signed off on just over $510,000 for repair work at two of Austin's facilities for the homeless as the city moves toward opening two new supportive housing complexes and expanding its overall homeless lodging portfolio.

The details

On April 13, council approved multiple construction contracts totaling $510,312 for repairs at Austin's Northbridge shelter off I-35 and the vacant Pecan Gardens complex near US 183 in Northwest Austin. The contracts were ratified on a retroactive basis for previous emergency incidents and cover:
  • $300,126 for repairs and restoration work at Northbridge following a pair of fire suppression system breakdowns in December 2021 and February 2022;
  • $131,558 for repairs and restoration work at Northbridge following a pipe break in November 2022; and
  • $78,628 for repairs at Pecan Gardens following a vandalism incident in May 2022.
The funding was pulled from Austin Public Health's budget.

More background

Other entities including nonprofits—many backed with city funding—take on much of the region's homeless response work, but Austin also owns several properties designed for both shorter-term shelter and longer-term housing. Those include the Northbridge and Southbridge shelters off I-35 as well as two former hotels in Northwest Austin, Pecan Gardens and Bungalows at Century Park off MoPac, to be converted into supportive housing complexes.

Northbridge and Southbridge have the capacity for 70 and 85 guests, respectively, and are now used to shelter former encampment residents as part of the city's Housing-focused Encampment Assistance Link sweep program. Once open, Pecan Gardens will house 78 residents. and Bungalows at Century Park will house 60.

Although the city's two bridge shelters have been operational for years, the two Northwest Austin facilities are not yet ready to welcome new tenants and have experienced delays in opening to residents. Permitting and renovations have stretched on longer than anticipated; the city previously said both would open by late 2022 or early 2023.

Next steps

A city Homeless Strategy Division spokesperson said in March that Pecan Gardens had received preconstruction approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, clearing the way for about six months of construction after permits were approved. Renovations at Bungalows at Century Park are expected to begin in late May or early June, following repairs to the building's foundation.

While Northbridge has served as a temporary bridge shelter so far, it could soon be converted into supportive housing for more permanent stays. The city was previously planning to make that change, but city officials changed course late last year to ensure that enough units for the HEAL initiative remain available. The spokesperson said there is still no target date for converting Northbridge into supportive housing.

Further purchases remain under consideration, but no additions beyond the two Northwest Austin hotel conversions are planned.

“The city is assessing multiple options and strategies to provide temporary shelter, housing solutions and supportive services to individuals and families in need of assistance. To date, the city has not made decisions about any specific facilities or property acquisitions,” the spokesperson said in an email.

At a broader level, the city still anticipates seeing hundreds of new housing and shelter units arriving by the end of 2024. Some of that development has moved forward with Austin's historic investment of more than $100 million in pandemic relief funds for homelessness alongside the public-private Finding Home ATX initiative.

Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey said an update on Austin's development pipeline for homeless housing will be provided during a May council committee meeting.

The city has also lost 100 shelter beds for the homeless this year, however, with the unexpected closure of The Salvation Army's downtown shelter. Austin spent $100,000 to extend the shelter's life for an extra month to find new homes for all of its guests, and the facility officially closed in mid-April.

The Homeless Strategy Division is also working on an extensive survey of guests in the city's shelter system this spring, which could be used to adjust facilities and services.