Austinites pass proposition to reinstate city homeless ordinances

Matt Machowiak, co-founder of the Save Austin Now political action committee behind Proposition B, spoke about the ballot measure and city leadership at a downtown victory party May 1. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Matt Machowiak, co-founder of the Save Austin Now political action committee behind Proposition B, spoke about the ballot measure and city leadership at a downtown victory party May 1. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Matt Machowiak, co-founder of the Save Austin Now political action committee behind Proposition B, spoke about the ballot measure and city leadership at a downtown victory party May 1. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Updated May 1 11:52 p.m.

Austin voters passed Proposition B with 57.7% of votes cast favoring the measure that would reinstate several of Austin's homeless ordinances by mid-May following the election's certification.

As of 11:52 p.m. May 1, 90,428 of the more than 150,000 Austin voters who weighed in on the proposition had voted in favor, with 66,292—42.3%—against.

In a downtown victory party, leaders and supporters of Save Austin Now, the political action committee behind the measure's addition to the May ballot, called the election result a victory for city residents and a rebuke of City Council's approach to tackling homelessness in Austin.

"We’re thrilled, obviously. This is a sign that a majority of Austin residents decided that they wanted to take their city back. That they just want a safe and clean city for everyone, the residents and the homeless," Matt Mackowiak, Save Austin Now co-founder, told Community Impact Newspaper. "This policy has been an epic failure. It’s been an absolute disaster for our city for two years now. It’s unconscionable that [Mayor] Steve Adler and [Council Member] Greg Casar have doubled down every single time denying gravity exists, pretending this policy’s working when it isn’t."


Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, the lone Proposition B supporter on the City Council dais, said the vote signaled a difference of opinion between many city residents and government action in addressing homelessness, and a potential starting point for new initiatives aimed at housing and support services.

"I’m hoping to see an accelerated effort to help our unhoused neighbors to connect them to housing and to ensure that people who are on the streets are connected to wraparound services so that they can lift themselves out of their situation," Kelly said. “Tonight is just reinforcement of an idea across the city that people agree with me and that I'm willing to be their voice to ensure that they’re heard.”

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell, also a supporter of the proposition, also pushed back on Austin's leadership in the wake of the election night results. Gravell noted that the measure appeared to have "failed handedly" in Williamson County—May 1 results showed just over 70.69% of county voters in favor of Proposition B—and said he hopes to see further communication from Austin while continuing to fight the city's plan to house people experiencing homelessness in a county hotel.

"The last two years the city of Austin has said, ‘Hey, if you’re homeless, you can live wherever you want. There are no rules. There’s no rules for you and there’s no rules for citizens. And what the people of central Texas have said, especially the people of Austin, is, ‘Mayor, your leadership on this issue is wrong and we’re standing up against you,'" Gravell said.

Casar, an opponent of the proposition, said that while the lead-up to Election Day may have seemed divisive for those on either side of the ballot measure, the final result signaled a desire by all voters to see marked progress on the city's homelessness strategy.

“Unfortunately, Prop B doesn’t provide housing or services. But, the city and the county and the federal government, and nonprofits and philanthropy can. And so we have to bring together local governments and philanthropy and nonprofits to put in motion the plan to drastically reduce homelessness in our city," Casar said. "I think it’s really clear that voters want to see a change. ... For too long and for too many years, addressing homelessness has been on a backburner in Austin and there hasn’t been enough attention to scaling up housing and services, and that has to get done."

In a statement, Adler also highlighted city voters' desire to see movement on the city's homelessness campaign and getting unsheltered individuals off the streets.

“One thing seems pretty clear, people on both sides of this issue want to see public camping end. This election underscores that we need to accelerate and scale a solution to end camping," Adler said. “Austin has a real opportunity to lead nationally on homelessness if we band together. I am committed to getting our residents out of tents. I will continue to work with my colleagues and our Summit partners to house 3,000 people in the next three years and accelerate moving people out of encampments and into better, safer places. We can do this if we commit to this cause.”

Posted May 1 7:29 p.m.

Austin's Proposition B—the ballot measure that would criminalize camping in public; "solicitation" or panhandling; and sitting, lying down and sleeping in the downtown area—received nearly two-thirds of the early vote, according to results posted by Travis and Williamson counties. Hays County, which has a small portion of the city, has not posted results as of 7:05 p.m.

A total of 60,546 Austin voters in Travis and Williamson counties or 63.6%, favored the measure that would reinstate Austin's public camping ban and related measures aimed at homelessness in the city while 34,720 opposed it, or 36.4%.

Backers of Proposition B, such as the Save Austin Now political action committee, are pushing for the change to city ordinance as a counter to Austin City Council's 2019 reversal of similar policies prohibiting camping downtown and as a public safety measure. The proposition's detractors, including the Homes Not Handcuffs campaign and several nonprofits and advocacy groups, oppose the potential criminalization of activities associated with homelessness and favor expanded support services and increased housing initiatives moving forward.

Seven other propositions are also before Austin voters in the May 1 election, including several that could affect the city's elections and elected leadership.

Election results are updated as of 7:10 p.m. and unofficial until canvassed. Travis County makes up the vast majority of the city of Austin, and according to the county clerk's office more than 103,000 residents cast early ballots. As of 5 p.m., the clerk's office said about 56,000 voters had cast ballots on election day.

Visit communityimpact.com/voter-guide/election-results to see results from all local elections in your community.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. He spent more than two years reporting on Montgomery County and The Woodlands area before moving to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city. Contact Ben with questions, tips or feedback at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @BThompson_CI.