Austin has canceled its plans to buy the 1.6-acre tract off Ben White Boulevard to use as a 100-bed homeless shelter, city staff said Nov. 12, as the city is moving toward purchasing an 87-unit South Austin hotel for shelter use instead.

When City Council announced over the summer its initial plans to buy the South Austin tract and build a housing-focused homeless shelter, it spurred praise and vehement objection from different sectors of the community. Neighbors in the area of the Ben White Boulevard tract voiced strong disapproval, saying the plot was too close to schools and residential areas. City Council repeatedly told the community that if homelessness were to be adequately addressed, it would take additional shelters and service centers in neighborhoods across the city.

The shelter was originally supposed to open by October 2019, but setbacks continually extended that timeline into 2020.

Now, City Council will instead pursue a different $8 million tract in South Austin: the 87-room Rodeway Inn at 2711 I-35. City staff and community homelessness experts said the hotel model will provide an immediate impact in getting people off the street as it is already set up for occupancy. Matt Mollica, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, said the hotel model has found success in past communities in which he worked, among them San Francisco and Denver.

Mollica said although the hotel model would find its residents through a referral process, it would be a “low-to-no barrier” shelter. Mollica added that it would require no housing plan, nor would it demand that those residing in the shelter be involved in case management, although services would be regularly offered to all residents. This presents a contrast to the model planned for the previous South Austin shelter, which would have required case management and a housing plan as criteria for entry.

ECHO will fundraise for and manage the hotel shelter’s operations for the first two years, Mollica said. Mayor Steve Adler praised the cost-effectiveness of the hotel model. City staff said they are on the hunt for more hotels or motels the city could convert into homeless shelters.

This is a developing story. Check back in for updates.