Homelessness issues, outlook for encampments
City Council's July 27 work session featured a push from Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison and District 8 Council Member Paige Ellis to table ongoing planning for the city's establishment of two designated campsites for people experiencing homelessness. The duo's announcement of their opposition to the initiative came during a condensed briefing on overall homeless strategy, and council members expressed a desire to revisit the topic in-depth during their July 29 meeting.
In addition to reviewing strategy and the city's short-term approach to shelter and housing, council's agenda features several action items related to homelessness. Council on Thursday could vote to approve:
- more than $900,000 in multi-year contracts supporting bridge housing efforts;
- a two-year, $1.15 million contract extension for cleanups around bridges, overpasses and roadways;
- a one-year, $1.54 million extension to a housing agreement with the Days Inn at 3105 I-35, Austin, for 65 shelter rooms;
- a $1.03 million, multi-month extension to a housing agreement with the La Quinta Inn at 4200 I-35, Austin, for 129 COVID-19 emergency shelter rooms; and
- a directive for City Manager Spencer Cronk to more closely collaborate with Austin stakeholders on homeless services and housing including the in-progress push to permanently house 3,000 people over three years.
Additionally, council will take up the topic of city motel conversions for homeless shelter in executive session.
District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo, who has recently spoken about a need to examine crime and safety issues in the city's downtown, will bring a proposal for several new public safety strategies along Sixth Street to the table July 29.
Her resolution, cosponsored by council members Pio Renteria and Mackenzie Kelly as well as Mayor Steve Adler, calls for the creation of a task force on the issue, further examination of underage drinking in the entertainment district, and consideration of pedestrian and vehicle access in the area on weekends. If approved, the resolution's one dozen included directives would be taken on by the city manager's office through October.
The council meeting will also feature an open forum for Austinites to share their thoughts on Cronk's proposed fiscal year 2021-22 budget. The public hearing will be the second held this month, following a July 22 session that saw conversation among residents center on the city's plans for police funding over the coming year. Additional public hearings on proposed Austin Energy and Austin Resource Recovery rate and fee changes and planned Austin Water projects will also be held.
Council will also vote on consideration of a maximum property tax revenue increase of 8%, and to set a public hearing on the final proposed rate in mid-August. Cronk's budget outline features a possible 3.5% tax revenue jump, and officials previously said the 8% limit would be used for planning and flexibility purposes.
Council could vote Thursday to take a stance on state legislation related to voting access that recently prompted Texas House Democrats to leave the state in an attempt to block Republican-backed bills on the topic. A resolution sponsored by District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes and cosponsored by four colleagues on the dais would ask Texas lawmakers to withdraw the related Senate and House bills now under consideration in the state's special legislative session, in favor of taking "proactive measures" for voting rights and access.
"The city of Austin recognizes that our communities thrive when all voices are heard in our democratic processes and reaffirms support for state and federal legislation that promotes and protects voting rights and access to voting, as well as greater inclusion and civic empowerment," the resolution states.
If approved, the resolution would also be forwarded to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, Austin-area state and federal lawmakers, Texas city councils and President Joe Biden.