On Aug. 17, Williamson County commissioners approved filing a lawsuit against the city of Austin after City Council approved the purchase of Candlewood Suites for $9.6 million.
The commissioners' unanimous vote comes after Austin City Council's 7-4 vote Aug. 11 to purchase the hotel and transform it into permanent supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness. This comes after a monthslong debate and controversy centering around lack of communication between the city and the county.
The 83-room hotel, located at 10811 Pecan Park Blvd., Bldg. 2, Austin, is within the boundaries of the city and Williamson County. Williamson County leaders said they were not notified of the city wanting to purchase the hotel until after the plan was announced in February. Commissioners and residents consistently asked the city to collaborate on the project and expressed disappointment with how the city chose to proceed, including resident Sandy Ramirez, citing her fear that similar problematic experiences with individuals experiencing homelessness in her past could happen near the hotel.
“The city of Austin has no control of the [homeless] situation whatsoever,” Ramirez said. “They make empty promises that problems won’t happen at Candlewood. The city is supposed to govern, but they are basically in the real estate business.”
Five Williamson County residents, some who spoke at the Aug. 10 commissioners meeting, again spoke in favor of the lawsuit. Their trust in the city is broken, said resident Bianca Ramirez, who spoke at the City Council meeting Aug. 11.
“Mayor [Steve] Adler was unable to answer any of our questions related to policy,” Ramirez said. “Mayor Adler didn’t keep his promise to sit with us [and discuss] either. How will [those experiencing homelessness] access services? Who will ensure they will get there?”
During the meeting, Commissioner Terry Cook suggested they confer with legal counsel in executive session before voting, which County Judge Bill Gravell approved immediately. After coming back from their 20-minute discussion, Gravell said several months ago he walked the property with Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, Adler and Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk. He said he asked them to have a conversation before the City Council proceeded with purchasing the hotel. Gravell said at the next council meeting, City Council voted unanimously to have open and public conversation with every municipality affected by the purchase before taking steps forward. However, he said those conversations did not happen.
“The city of Austin, under the cover of darkness, behind the leadership of Steve Adler, moved forward on a homeless shelter for more than a year without consulting anyone on this dais or anyone within Williamson County to my knowledge,” Gravell said. “It is clear we cannot trust the city of Austin.”
This is a developing story, and Community Impact Newspaper will update this story with new information.