Local leaders announced plans Feb. 8 to double the capacity of the Esperanza Community, a transitional housing site for people exiting homelessness. The expansion of the East Austin community will help relocate people who are displaced by construction to widen I-35, officials said.

“In the last four years, TxDOT’s Austin District created the blueprint for how cities across Texas, and the country, can help address homelessness,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news release. “This additional capacity for temporary housing for those at risk of experiencing homelessness will allow more Texans to get the services they need.”

The Texas Department of Transportation plans to kick off its $4.5 billion interstate-widening project through Central Austin in mid-2024, and construction may last for up to a decade. Crews will tear down bridges and overpasses where some of the city’s homeless population seeks shelter, according to the release.

What you need to know

The Esperanza Community is located on a 7-acre site at 780 S. US 183, just north of Hwy. 71. The facility originally opened in 2019 as a state-sanctioned encampment. It is now owned by TxDOT and run by The Other Ones Foundation, or TOOF, a local nonprofit offering resources to people experiencing homelessness.

In early February, TxDOT purchased an adjacent 7 acres of land for $2.3 million, according to department spokesperson Bradley Wheelis.

The community has 100 tiny homes and is at capacity, according to TOOF’s website.

"Seventy-six of the 100 are occupied as we complete the final furnishing and intake processes," TOOF Chief Strategy Officer Zoe Lassiter said.

Residents can access health care services, laundry facilities, case management services and more on the property, while each 50-home neighborhood features community gathering spaces, bathrooms and food facilities.

The nonprofit expects to build more “noncongregate emergency shelters,” or tiny homes, on the new land, Lassiter said. Leaders have not determined a timeline for the expansion.

Looking ahead

Lassiter said TOOF will work with people experiencing homelessness and other local organizations as it expands the Esperanza Community.

“All of TOOF’s shelters and shelter-based services are designed in partnership with our community stakeholders—most importantly, those who are unhoused,” Lassiter said. “We’ve learned that noncongregate shelter provides a level of dignity and safety that enhances an unhoused person’s ability to transition into a more engaged, long-term community.”

The agencies did not describe how or when they intended to begin relocating people from the I-35 corridor to the Esperanza Community.

Approximately six months earlier, officials announced nearly $60 million for homeless shelter development in Austin. That funding, part of Abbott’s ongoing partnership with Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, could be used to create up to 700 new shelter beds.

Quote of note

“We’re building on the unique partnership with the state to address the needs of our unhoused neighbors and expand upon TxDOT’s award-winning work at the Esperanza Community,” Watson said in the release. “I appreciate the leadership of Gov. Abbott to recognize that we’re more effective working together to help community members get out of encampments and into safe, supportive homes.”