The Rodeway Inn project comes instead of the city’s previous $8 million effort to convert an office building off Ben White Boulevard into a new homeless shelter. City Council announced earlier this week that it was abandoning those plans in favor of the 87-room hotel purchase and conversion.
Council’s approval only gave city staff directive to negotiate the acquisition. Following the purchase, the plan is to outfit the building with case management services and begin bringing homeless individuals into the building through a referral program. Matt Mollica, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition said the city would also do an audit of the people currently living at the hotel and work to place them in more permanent housing situations. He vowed that no one living at the Rodeway Inn would be displaced.
A group of neighbors came to Austin City Hall on Nov. 14 in what one member called "vehement disagreement" to the proposal. The residents voiced concern about their property values and the economic future of the area if a shelter comes in, but also said they worried about how the crime in the area might impact the city’s plans.
Henri Daumas of the adjacent Timber Ridge Townhomes, said there is “massive” crime near the Rodeway Inn, as well as the nearby Park West Inn and Motel 6. He said a homeless shelter in the area could make those experiencing homeless vulnerable to the criminal activity. He also criticized the city’s lack of public engagement ahead of the purchase.
“I’m sensitive to the plight of the homeless, but placing a homeless shelter in this site is a bad idea,” said Daumas, who said he only found out about the shelter plans two days before.
Mark Thompson, the vice president of the Timber Ridge Homeowners Association, along with a handful of other neighbors, backed up Daumas’ claim. Community Impact Newspaper reached out to the Austin Police Department, but they did not respond by press time.
Several council members admitted being unaware of the reported criminal activity in the area. District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose central district falls near the shelter, said she was “concerned” by the neighbors’ reports, but warned against equating criminal activity with homelessness. She said she hoped the city’s involvement in the area would help address some of the crime.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler echoed Tovo’s concerns and made a personal commitment to the neighbors of the homeless shelter to answer concerns.
“I promise you personally that I will come out there as [the shelter] opens,” Adler said. “I will be available and with you at that site.”
Mollica made a similar commitment, and said he would be available to address any concerns raised by nearby residents throughout the process.
District 10 Council Member Alison Alter said she struggled with the speed at which the city was moving in purchasing the hotel without much public engagement, but said she understood it due to the hot housing market in the city and the need to act swiftly.
“The lack of public engagement is uncomfortable but it’s a reality of what we have to do if we want to buy space,” Alter said. She said she wanted to see more diligence in engaging the public before moving forward with future purchases.