AUSTIN — During an economic crisis where government shutdowns could force 261,000 Austinites out of work, the local government is now spending more of citizens’ money on expensive hotels for the homeless.
Last week, the Austin City Council approved spending $8.75 million on a downtown-area hotel to house roughly 75 homeless people. The council is forcing taxpayers to spend over $116,000 per room—a price that doesn’t even include the ongoing maintenance and operation costs.
Also, the property—a Country Inn & Suites—was valued by the county at only $4.8 million.
The council approved the purchase on their consent agenda, meaning they packaged it with numerous other uncontested items and voted without public discussion.
The hotel is only the latest purchase in the city council’s ongoing trail of spending seemingly overpriced sums on homeless housing; last fall, the council bought another hotel for $8 million, though it could only house 81 citizens.
Last year’s hotel is also a “low-to-no barrier” shelter, which, according to city officials, means individuals can enter without any background check, stay as long as they want, and don’t need to be sober while they live there. It remains to be seen if the latest hotel will be the same.
Additionally, the council is framing their latest purchase in context to the coronavirus, hoping they’ll be able to pay for their pre-pandemic homeless hotels plan with the $170 million of federal taxpayer cash that was funneled to the city by the CARES Act. If that doesn’t work, however, local citizens will be paying the entire cost.
Despite the city council’s exorbitant spending—they’ve also budgeted a record $62 million toward homelessness this fiscal year—the amount of the homeless population is up 11 percent from last year (to an 11-year high), and the population of unsheltered homeless increased 45 percent this year.
To pay for the council’s constantly swelling spending, the city council is considering raising taxes again this year by the maximum allowed under state law, even though they’re already taking 100 percent more cash from the average homeowner compared to 12 years ago (in 2008 the median property tax bill was $705; now, it’s over $1,400).
The council’s latest pricey hotel purchase and potential tax hike on citizens comes amid fallout from government coronavirus shutdowns. City officials estimate the shutdowns could result in as much as a quarter of Austin’s workforce—261,000 people—being out of a job and potentially left without any income to feed their families or provide a place to live.