City officials moved to establish a new fund linked to Austin's response to homelessness on Aug. 31.

What happened

The House Our People Endowment, or HOPE, fund was proposed by Council Member Ryan Alter to create a new revenue stream for Austin's homeless strategy work and account for how those city dollars are spent.

“Too many of our neighbors are going to bed every night on the hot sidewalk instead of a bed, and we all know how to solve this crisis: Build the housing people need and pair it with the supports necessary for their success. Today, we are taking an important step to do that," Alter said Aug. 31.

In passing Alter's resolution, City Council members directed Interim City Manager Jesús Garza to create the new housing fund to receive and spend homelessness dollars. The fund will feature "clear and transparent reporting" on its expenses, according to Alter's measure.

The details

Ben Leffler, Alter's chief of staff, compared the HOPE fund to an endowment that will dedicate a portion of resources to regular spending on homelessness alongside a portion accumulating long-term equity. The fund will require new money to be officially set up, he said, and has the potential to accept money from contributors outside of the city budget.

"The HOPE Fund will allow us to make sustained investments in housing our unhoused neighbors," Alter added. "This fund will generate new, ongoing funds so that we can make long-term investments in people, and at the end of the day what could be more important than that?”

Council moved the creation of the HOPE fund along on Aug. 31 with Council Member Alison Alter abstaining, citing concerns with the timeline and detail of Alter's proposal.

“While I supported many of our important investments in responding to the needs of people experiencing homelessness, this item was a late addition to the agenda, and it’s not clear to me exactly how this will improve our service delivery or our response," she said.

The big picture

The first step toward the new fund's creation also comes amid calls for increased transparency about Austin's homeless spending and with a major leadership change in its homelessness division.

In August, City Council passed Austin's fiscal year 2023-24 budget including a record of nearly $81 million set aside for civic efforts related to homelessness. Several targeted council measures related to the issue—such as funding for additional services, city staff positions and virtual resources for the unhoused—made it through the budgeting process.

Weeks later, the resident-led Human Rights Commission unanimously asked city leaders to release a "comprehensive budget presentation" covering the past decade of city budgeting and spending on homelessness, and how effective that work ended up being.

Soon after on Aug. 31, Council Member Mackenzie Kelly asked Garza to launch a thorough audit of Austin's homelessness spending. It remains to be seen how either her or the commission's requests may be addressed.City auditors previously looked into Austin's policies, programming and spending on homelessness over the course of a multipart review stretching from 2017 to 2019. In a 2021 follow-up report, auditors weren't able to compile complete records of the city's homeless contracts and related expenditures.

Council's HOPE fund vote also came on the heels of Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey's announcement of her resignation. Grey began working as Austin's second-ever official in that role in early 2021 following the abrupt departure of the city's first homeless officer, Lori Pampilo Harris, in fall 2019.

“Dianna will certainly be missed, and I am sorry to see her go,” Garza said in a statement. “She held a very challenging position as the Homeless Strategy Officer during particularly challenging times. Her impressive portfolio of work includes formally establishing the City’s Homeless Strategy Division, building a team of dedicated staff, and positioning Austin to accomplish our goal of making homelessness brief, rare and nonrecurring. I wish her nothing but success in her future endeavors.”

Austin Public Health officials did not confirm Grey's final day with the city or provide more information about her departure as of press time.