There’s some breaking news on a facet of the City’s homelessness issue that has not received much attention lately. That is the pending purchase of the Candlewood Suites Hotel in Northwest Austin. This is part of Austin that is in Williamson County, in the Anderson Mill area. Readers may recall that in February the Council approved purchase of that property for transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness. The purchase has not yet been completed and the Council is still in its due diligence stage which ends June 18.
The Austin Independent was working on an update of the issue. In the process we sent some questions to the Mayor and all members of the Council, asking if they had visited the site before taking the vote. As we explained to the Council Members, that question is based on our assessment that this site is different than other sites the Council has purchased for the same purpose in two ways; it shares a driveway with the neighboring Hampton Inn and the Homewood Suites, and the entrances and parking lot are very close to Freda’s Seafood Grille next door.
We heard back from three Council Members. While the others are doubtlessly busy, it’s also easy to take the lack of response as an answer of no, as in, no we did not visit the site before voting to purchase it.
Council Member Kathie Tovo responded and said she did visit the site before the original vote. Council Member Leslie Pool and Council Member Mackenzie Kelly were the other two that responded. Both shared some information that was not previously public knowledge.
Pool acknowledged that the driveway is “problematic” and said that she, Kelly, and Council Member Ann Kitchen “engaged Wilco (Williamson County) commissioners in an active pursuit of alternative sites within Williamson County.” Members of the Williamson County Commissioners Court had complained publicly about not being notified before the Council made the Candlewood decision.
Kelly, the only Council Member to vote against the Candlewood purchase, responded that she has visited the site many times and wrote, “I have voiced multiple concerns about this property, including the proximity to nearby schools. It’s less than 950 feet from Westwood High school. I have concerns about the cost of the purchase and if it’s the most fiscally responsible way to house homeless. We approved up to 9.5 million dollars, but the appraised value (according to the Williamson County CAD) places the hotel at a much lower value. I would be interested to see what the appraisal cost is after the due diligence period is completed.”
Kelly added, “I will be bringing forward an IFC (Item from Council) on the June 10th council agenda related to this specific issue. Here’s the proposed posting language: ‘Approve a resolution directing the City Manager to collaborate with counties in the central Texas region, including Hays, Travis and Williamson County, regarding potential or proposed real estate transactions or other mutual investments intended to comprehensively address homelessness.’”
Pool also mentioned this upcoming Item from Council and wrote, “We need regional solutions for this regional challenge. CM Kelly put a resolution on the June 10 agenda for the full Council to support a regional collaboration, and I am proud to be a co-sponsor.”
It is far from certain whether this will result in the Council abandoning the Candlewood site, but it certainly appears to show at least some movement on the Council in that direction.
The Item from Council also signals that the Council is seeking to involve regional partners in their post Prop B approach to homelessness. As Pool put it, “The City of Austin can make strides to solving homelessness but those strides will fall short until and unless everyone pitches in – the private and public sectors, our Central Texas region, as well as the state and federal governments all have a stake in this societal challenge, and we all must come together to make homelessness rare and infrequent.”
The Candlewood site has been the site of a well organized opposition led by Rupal Chaudhari who is affiliated with the neighboring hotels. She has worked closely with her business neighbor Freda Chen of Freda’s Seafood Grille.
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