No timeline set on opening of Austin’s first conversion of motel to homeless shelter

The city of Austin authorized the purchase of a Rodeway Inn at 2711 S. I-35 on Nov. 14. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
The city of Austin authorized the purchase of a Rodeway Inn at 2711 S. I-35 on Nov. 14. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

The city of Austin authorized the purchase of a Rodeway Inn at 2711 S. I-35 on Nov. 14. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

When City Council approved the $8 million purchase and renovation of the still-active, 87-room Rodeway Inn in South Austin, the move was propped up as the start of new strategy to combat homelessness by converting motels and hotels into shelters.

That approval happened in mid-November. Now, more than four months later, city staff said they expect to officially close on the property by mid-April; however, with renovations still necessary, officials said there was no timeline on when the facility would begin operating as a shelter taking people off the street.

Rosie Truelove, the city director of neighborhood housing and community development, told City Council on Feb. 18 that her team planned to expedite rehabilitation of the Rodeway Inn at 2711 S. I-35 to the greatest extent possible.

Mayor Steve Adler, who said at the close of 2019 he hoped to get 300 new shelter units from motel-to-shelter conversions up and running in 2020, said there needed to be greater transparency so the public could set accurate expectations. He said the city needed to continue to set benchmarks to hold themselves accountable.

Less than a month after the Rodeway Inn approval in November, the city nearly closed on a $6.8 million purchase of the 71-room Microtel Inn & Suites near the airport, but a zoning issue forced the city to quickly abandon the plans. Since then, no motel properties have come across the dais for approval.

Truelove said her office has a few other properties in its sights, but the sensitivity of real estate transactions kept her from going into further detail at the Feb. 18 meeting. She also said by mid-March the city would send out feelers to see which organizations could provide operation services for future motel conversions. Truelove said it was her understanding that many organizations had the resources to offer services for future homeless shelters and just needed a building in which to provide the services.

The goal for these shelters is to not only provide shelter, but a menu of services as well, from case management and health care to employment and substance abuse services. The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition has been tapped to operate and offer these services in the Rodeway Inn conversion. The money used to provide these services will be funded through philanthropy, ECHO Executive Director Matt Mollica said. Mollica said ECHO said is in the midst of a fundraising campaign. He said he is confident the organization will have enough money to run the shelter for at least the first year.

Truelove told council she would work on providing a more exact timeline on the motel strategy in the near future.
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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