Austin City Council votes for improved coordination with local counties on homeless issues; no action taken on Williamson County Candlewood Suites purchase before summer break

Candlewood Suites is located at 10811 Pecan Park Blvd., Bldg. 2, Austin. (Chris Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Candlewood Suites is located at 10811 Pecan Park Blvd., Bldg. 2, Austin. (Chris Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Candlewood Suites is located at 10811 Pecan Park Blvd., Bldg. 2, Austin. (Chris Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin City Council on June 10 passed a resolution intended to ease tensions and improve information-sharing between Austin leaders and their local government counterparts during future talks on regional homelessness strategy.

Sponsored by District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, the resolution directs City Manager Spencer Cronk to coordinate with government leaders and social service providers in Hays, Travis and Williamson counties related to homelessness and to report back to council on his work beginning July 29. Kelly said she drafted the resolution, which includes a provision for Cronk to inform local county leaders of relevant real estate transactions "as soon as legally and practically possible," in response to Austin's handling of communication with Williamson County about the pending purchase of a Candlewood Suites for homeless housing in her district.

“Austin prides itself on seeking community input on almost everything, and this solidifies that agreement. It is a significant reason why projects often take a frustratingly long time to come to fruition, and what we end up with is a best possible outcome in most cases because we have buy-in from stakeholders," Kelly said. "It’s difficult for me to understand why we haven’t approached the issue of addressing homelessness in the same collaborative way, and so I felt compelled to introduce this resolution to formalize that goal.”

District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo took time before a final vote on the item to clarify the result of Kelly's stipulation to promptly inform neighboring counties of real estate purchases, noting that city leaders could still complete initial negotiations behind closed doors before publicly releasing contract details in the future.

"In most cases we can’t share information about a real estate transaction with our county partners before we would share it with the public at large," Tovo said.

The resolution was approved through council's unanimous passage of its consent agenda, with District 4 Council Member Greg Casar off the dais. The final direction was co-sponsored by council members Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Alison Alter and Mayor Steve Adler, all of whom had joined Kelly May 17 in signing onto a letter addressed to Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell and his fellow county commissioners affirming their desires for expanding homeless discussions between the city and county. The final resolution was also supported in writing by community representatives of the Anderson Mill and Avery Ranch neighborhoods, as well as the Austin Hindu community.

Adler on June 10 stressed the need for improved regional partnerships on homelessness strategy, and also acknowledged Austin could have better approached its securing of the southern Williamson County hotel for permanent supportive housing.

“I think it’s real important that we be as collaborative as we can with our partners in the region. And I think there are lessons to be learned from Candlewood, and I think that this policy here represents that change," Adler said. "I think we could have, after this property was put under contract, have given notice and heads-up of that and engaged other area leaders. And I think it’s important that we do that in the future.”

Homeless hotels

While it had been pulled by Kelly for additional discussion June 10, the purchase of the North Austin Candlewood Suites was not officially brought up during the meeting and resulted in no official action before council adjourned for its weekslong summer break.

The item covering the hotel's purchase was sponsored by Adler and cosponsored by Casar and council members Paige Ellis and Vanessa Fuentes. A spokesperson with Casar's office said he remains a supporter of the plan, and that it is still under council consideration with more than two months of due diligence remaining. In a statement, Kelly reiterated her stance in opposition to the purchase as of mid-June.

"Although Mayor and Council did not take action on item 89 regarding the purchase of Candlewood Suites, I have made it clear that I do not agree with this location being used for permanent supportive housing. Council will continue to explore all possible options for permanent supportive housing while Candlewood is in the due diligence period. I encourage the community to continue to stay engaged and assist us with this challenge," she said.

Williamson County leaders and neighboring residents and business owners have for months pushed back on Austin officials' move to buy the hotel, with many saying their concerns stem from a homeless housing facility's potential effects on the surrounding area and a lack of transparency from the city through the process. Gravell earlier this week reaffirmed Williamson County commissioners' desire to legally challenge Austin's acquisition and directed his staff to add consideration of a lawsuit against the hotel purchase to the court's June 15 agenda.

“Mr. Mayor [Adler], if you choose to continue to go down this path, you are forcing Williamson County to do something and to hold you accountable,” Gravell said June 8.

Austin's push for the Candlewood Suites also attracted attention at the state level this year. Community Impact Newspaper previously reported that Attorney General Ken Paxton had prioritized investigating the purchase earlier this year, and state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed a bill in February that would have mandated county approval of homeless housing purchases. That measure, Senate Bill 646, passed the Senate in April but failed to reach the finish line in the House before the Texas Legislature adjourned May 31.

Earlier in its June 10 meeting, City Council did vote for the acquisition of a Travis County hotel that will provide for 65 shelter or housing units. The $6.5 million purchase of that northwest Austin building, a Texas Bungalows Hotel & Suites located at 13311 Burnet Road, was approved unanimously via consent.

Ali Linan contributed to this report.


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