While speaking on a panel at the South by Southwest festival this weekend, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the city still needs $100 million before it can begin work on a new homeless housing project to alleviate Austin’s ongoing homelessness crisis.
The new project, often referred to as the Homeless Summit, proposes spending $515 million on 3,000 homeless housing units—a total of $176,00 per person. Under this plan, funding will come from the City of Austin, Travis County, and any business or philanthropy that wishes to donate. So far, $400 million has been raised, with more than half coming from federal COVID-19 relief money.
Although the city already has more than three-quarters of the funds necessary, Adler has so far refused to begin work on the plan until all of the $515 million has been secured.
This new summit project comes on the heels of a multi-year homelessness crisis in the city of Austin. In 2019, the city council voted to defund Austin’s police department by up to $150 million and to repeal a law that prevented the homeless from camping in public spaces.
As a result, the city’s homeless population skyrocketed and massive tent encampments sprung up along streets and neighborhoods throughout Austin. The camps grew so large that Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to involve the federal government if Austin’s city officials did not clean up their streets.
As the homeless population increased, so did the rate of violent crime. Austin homicides increased year over year in 2020 by 64 percent, and other violent crimes rose by the double digits. The combined factors of massive homeless encampments and increasingly dangerous city streets quickly led to public backlash against the policies.
In January 2021, citizen group Save Austin Now submitted a petition to the city with more than 27,000 signatures calling for a public vote on the reinstatement of the camping law. The petition was successful, and in a subsequent May election, more than 58 percent of Austin residents voted to restore the law and prevent the homeless community from camping on city streets.
However, Austin’s citizens are worried that in addition to failing to enforce the camping law, city officials are now spending exorbitant amounts of money on homeless housing projects without making progress on the underlying homelessness crisis.
While on the South by Southwest panel, Adler stated that although he hoped to have the rest of the funding by the end of the year, he was unsure of where the money would come from.
“I would love it just to come from one place, but I don’t think it’s going to happen that way,” said Adler. “I think there will be multiple participants, and we’re talking to many right now. … My hope is that before the year is over, we’re going to have raised the additional money.”
While the city waits for additional funding, Austin’s homelessness crisis continues to grow with no solution in sight.