By Zahra Latheef, age 11
The Austin City Council voted in January to buy rundown hotels to house the Texas city’s unhoused population. Many people were unhoused in Austin even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The vote to purchase the first hotel was unanimously supported by the City Council. On Feb. 4, the council, in a 10-1 vote, agreed to purchase another hotel. Austin has now purchased four hotels to house the unhoused.
The money to pay for the hotels is partly coming from the police’s budget. In August, the council unanimously decided to cut $150 million from the police budget, largely due to the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020. Councilmember Gregorio Casar told The Appeal, “This is the only way Austin is able to pay for the hotels.”
According to Point-In-Time Count results, Austin had about 2,500 people who were unhoused at the start of last year — about 1,600 people living in unsheltered places like cars and tents, with the remaining 900 living in transitional housing. Some Austin residents are pleased with the efforts made to help the unhoused, while others feel this tactic will present more problems.
In March, the Chaudhari Partnership sued the city of Austin for violating a deed restriction. The partnership owns two hotels near the one of the locations the city purchased and is pushing to have the city’s purchase stopped. They argue if Austin turns the hotel into a shelter for unhoused people, it will harm the property value of their hotels. In the long run, hotels purchased by the Austin City Council may face the same opposition and problems. The debate on how to house the unhoused continues.