New 'respectful neighbor policy' aims to address concerns around new homeless shelters in Austin

The city of Austin authorized the purchase of a Rodeway Inn at 2711 S. I-35 on Nov. 14. The city plans to convert the property into a homeless shelter. 
Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper
The city of Austin authorized the purchase of a Rodeway Inn at 2711 S. I-35 on Nov. 14. The city plans to convert the property into a homeless shelter. Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper

The city of Austin authorized the purchase of a Rodeway Inn at 2711 S. I-35 on Nov. 14. The city plans to convert the property into a homeless shelter. Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper

When Austin City Council voted to move forward with purchasing the South Austin Rodeway Inn for conversion into a homeless shelter, Mayor Steve Adler and local homelessness leader Matt Mollica promised to personally address the many concerns raised by neighbors about the shelter. The city is now turning that pledge into a policy, according to documents released Nov. 26.

The “respectful neighbor policy” is currently under development, but assistant city manager Rodney Gonzales and homeless strategy officer Lori Pampilo Harris said it would be implemented for all future motel conversions. City leaders have said motel conversions offer the best and most immediate housing solution to address the local homelessness issue. The city plans to pursue the conversion of more motels in the future, they have said.

Adler promised during the Nov. 14 City Council meeting to be onsite with the discontented neighbors as the Rodeway Inn transitioned into a shelter to listen and address their concerns. However, the policy in development would ensure that staff from the city’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition and the shelter’s on-site service providers be regularly available to nearby residents.

“We will seek that ECHO staff participate in appropriate neighborhood and community meetings, have staff on-site available 24/7 to address on-site issues, and minimize disruptive behavior by having 24/7 on-site security,” city staff wrote to City Council in a Nov. 26 memo.

The memo re-emphasized that the city would not tolerate loitering around the shelter and that the shelter was not open to walk-ins, but only available to referred residents. Staff also said the “facility and immediate area” would be cleaned frequently.

Austin leaders have expected residents to object to opening new homelessness shelters. Prior to the Rodeway Inn purchase, City Council approved plans over the summer to buy a South Austin building to convert into a homeless shelter. City Council members, especially Mayor Adler and Council Member Ann Kitchen—whose district surrounded the planned shelter—were met with harsh and regular criticism from neighbors and residents across the city. The city has since moved away from its plan for that South Austin shelter.

The mayor and members of City Council have consistently told Austinites that if the city’s homelessness issues are to be resolved, neighbors from across the city must do their part. The city will likely need to open up new shelters and homelessness service centers in neighborhoods throughout Austin, they have said.

The city is looking for inspiration from similar good-neighbor policies implemented in other communities, such as Orange County and Santa Clara in California, Toronto and Portland, Oregon.

In the same Nov. 26 memo, city staff said they are also developing a criteria for future purchases of motels for shelter conversion and that “all motels for sale within the city of Austin jurisdictional boundaries will be pursued and screened.”

Staff will grade potential motels on nine factors: whether it can be successful converted; the building’s condition; the building’s configuration; how the rooms are configured; the layout of individual units; the number of units; plumbing and utility infrastructure; location—specifically not too close to other motel conversions and not located in historically disadvantaged areas; proximity to schools and playgrounds; cost of purchase and renovation; and ability to relocate any people who have planned long-term stays at the motel.
By Christopher Neely

Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


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