Williamson County Commissioners want Austin City Council to delay its plan to buy and convert the Candlewood Suites hotel in Northwest Austin into a permanent housing facility for people experiencing homelessness. The commissioners voted Feb. 2 to request Austin's governing body wait at least 180 days before making the purchase. Austin City Council is scheduled to vote on the project Feb. 4.
Austin is eyeing the 83-room hotel, which sits at 10811 Pecan Pecan Park Blvd., near FM 620, for roughly $9.5 million as part of its strategy to convert hotels and motels into transitional and permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness. A majority of Austin City Council members have already expressed support for the purchase ahead of the Feb. 4 vote.
The hotel is located in the Williamson County portion of Austin. County officials said they were never notified about the project and raised concerns over its potential impact on resources and services. Williamson County commissioners officially asked the city to postpone the purchase to allow for stakeholder input and the completion of an impact study.
“The frustration you hear today is that it has been done in a complete vacuum,” said Commissioner Cynthia Long, who oversees the precinct in which the hotel would be located. “My request to the city of Austin today is simple. Talk to your neighbors and residents.”
Long added that she has worked with the city of Austin on many transportation projects and in doing so made sure to be transparent by talking to and receiving input and approval form the city before moving forward with any road project.
“We would never have dreamed of doing something in their jurisdiction without their consent,” she said.
A spokesperson for the city of Austin said the city contacted Long's office on Feb. 1 to discuss the project. District 6 City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, whose district surrounds the hotel, said she sat in on a Feb. 1 meeting with Long and the city's new homelessness strategy officer, Dianna Grey, regarding the purchase. The city spokesperson said the city would not typically consult Williamson County commissioners on every purchase the city makes in the county.
Although the request carries no legal teeth, Austin Mayor Steve Adler acknowledged that, as a request made by a government body, the push to delay would be taken “very seriously,” but stopped short of saying it would impact City Council’s decision.
“There’s a lot of housing we have to get online quickly if we’re to get people off the streets and out of tents like so many people want us to do,” Adler said.
Freshman City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, whose District 6 surrounds the targeted hotel, said the Williamson County commissioners were “rightfully” upset that the city did not bring county officials to the table during negotiations. City Council was scheduled to vote on the Candlewood Suites purchase Jan. 27, but Kelly successfully postponed the action for a week so she could “counter misinformation” regarding the project among neighbors and business owners.
Kelly said she supports the city’s hotel-motel conversation strategy in combating homelessness and told Community Impact Newspaper that she expects the hotel purchase to pass Feb. 4. She said she plans to hold “several town halls” to rightsize community expectations of the project. Kelly’s first town hall is scheduled for Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.
Williamson County officials said they are not necessarily against the project but more so against the way in which it was handled.
“In government, transparency is really important, and transparency is having public discussions and engaging folks,” Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell told Community Impact Newspaper. “When you're spending money like this, in our community, it would have been respectful to hear officially from the city of Austin.”
Several community members including residents and business owners also spoke during the meeting saying they, too, were not informed of the project.
Many said they have already seen the issues homelessness has caused to their neighborhood and were concerned crime, litter and graffiti would escalate. Others said they were worried for their and their children’s safety as the hotel would be near several schools, including Westwood High School.
Community and court members also called the location illogical, pointing to a lack of access to public transportation, a grocery store or other resources.
“I understand that the city desires to address the homeless population around our city, and I sympathize [with them],” said Freda Chen, owner of Freda’s Seafood Grille next door to the proposed project. “I'm afraid that this purchase, however, will do more harm than good.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed information about a meeting between Dianna Grey and Cynthia Long to a city of Austin spokesperson. Community Impact Newspaper regrets this error.