The allocation will fund approximately 2,000 new supportive housing units in partnership with local nonprofits and developers. It marks a considerable commitment toward a community goal of dedicating 3,000 new supportive housing units within three years, known as The Summit to Address Unsheltered Homelessness in Austin.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gòmez, who sponsored the motion along with Precinct 3 Commissioner Ann Howard, said the vote was an overdue step toward solving homelessness in Austin following months of discussion regarding the allocation of the county’s ARPA dollars.
“Over and over I keep hearing in my mind the Elvis Presley song ‘A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action, Please,’” Gomez said. “What better way [is there] to use these funds than to make a real dent in probably the most serious social issue that I’ve seen in quite a while?”
The $110 million commitment amounts to around 44% of Travis County’s more than $247 million in Local Fiscal Recovery Funds of the American Rescue Plan Act. The city of Austin in June committed $106.7 million of its own ARPA funds to local homelessness programs and housing, and stipulated that the county and other community partners must collectively contribute at least $200 million before Austin's full commitment is released from a reserve fund.
City representatives praised Travis County's vote.
“Moving folks from one underpass to another will never reduce homelessness, but stable housing with wraparound services will,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said in a Sept. 14 tweet. “Thank you to our Commissioners Court ... for taking this historic step toward addressing homelessness in our community.”
The county will earmark $50 million for projects of the newly created Travis County Supportive Housing Collaborative, a partnership between the Austin Area Urban League, A New Entry, Caritas, Family Eldercare, Integral Care, LifeWorks and SAFE Alliance. The collaborative will build supportive housing in various areas across six to eight sites in Travis County, serving around 1,000 people. Of those units, 350 will be specifically reserved for the “coordinated entry” of formerly homeless individuals, with 250 units set aside for people making less than 50% of the area median family income and 400 reserved for those making less than 60%. In a brief submitted by the collaborative, organizers said they expected most construction to be complete by December 2024, assuming expedited permitting from the city of Austin. Final approval of individual sites is slated for January 2022.
"We currently have a dozen candidate sites," said Susan McDowell, CEO of LifeWorks, in a presentation on behalf of the Travis County Supportive Housing Collaborative. "We're narrowing down based on our priorities: access to transit, grocery stores and subsidized health care."
Another $50 million in county funds will go toward Burleson Village, a new supportive housing community that will house around 700 residents. Burleson Village, a project from partners Foundation Communities, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and Community First Village, will also receive nearly $50 million in private donations.
Additionally, $6.5 million will support the Juniper Creek Apartments project developed by Foundation Communities, which will provide 100 formerly homeless families with affordable housing on North Lamar Boulevard, along with case management and other supportive services.
Finally, Camp Esperanza, a state-sanctioned encampment located in Southeast Austin, will receive $3 million toward the construction of 200 tiny homes that will provide housing for at least 400 people.
While the court’s vote was unanimous, Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion urged the court and county staff to hold the organizations receiving funding accountable, ensuring that the investment is made equitably throughout Travis County’s geographic areas and racial demographics.
“If you are rich and you’re in Austin, you’re in heaven. But if you’re poor and you’re in Austin, you’re at the gates of hell,” Travillion said. “We have to make sure that these dollars are an investment for poor people, and for struggling middle class teachers, city workers and county workers who are just barely getting by. I think together we can make that happen.”