As a homelessness crisis unfolds in Texas’ Democrat-run capital city, Republican state lawmakers are in the process of taking action to better protect communities and the homeless.
On Monday, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 646, a proposed law that requires elected officials to coordinate with each other when buying homeless shelters.
The bill was created as a response to the Austin City Council, who voted two months ago to purchase a controversial $9.5 million hotel to house 80 homeless individuals—without a detailed plan or notifying any relevant officials or the public.
“What we saw occur two or three months ago was a glaring lack of responsibility on the part of the city council,” said bill author State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R–Georgetown). “None of these people had any knowledge of the action of the Austin City Council before they took it.”
“The city’s plan was set in motion without notifying the Austin City Council member who represents this area, nor any Williamson County officials, businesses, or nearby school districts,” Schwertner said Monday. “The city has failed to detail how it would provide necessary support and resources such as healthcare, transportation, mental health services, job training programs, or security.”
Schwertner’s bill specifically would “require a city council in the state of Texas that plans to purchase a building to house a homeless shelter to submit a plan to the local county commissioners court for approval,” according to the senator. It also requires elected officials to notify the public 61 days before purchasing such a property.
Republican lawmakers approved the proposal on a party-line vote of 18-13.
“We are not against [the] homeless, but our problem is the location,” said citizen Rupal Chaudhari, whose family “invested their livelihoods” to own two hotels adjacent to the new homeless project. She said the city’s conduct in making the decision was an “absolute abuse of power.”
“All we are asking is: Where is the impact study? What will happen to our businesses? What will happen to all the residences that surround this place? What happens to the security of our children? These are all questions we need answers to.”
The homeless hotel issue is a piece of a large crisis unfolding in Texas’ capital city. In 2019, the Democrat-run Austin City Council legalized homeless camping in nearly all public spaces, sparking a swarm of tent cities along sidewalks and neighborhoods, a drastic surge of the city’s homeless population, a more dangerous public environment (violent crime rose by double digits in 2020 and continues to climb this year), and a wildfire of public backlash.
“Let there be no mistake, the Austin City Council and Mayor [Steve] Adler have completely failed the homeless with the policies they have enacted in Austin. The citizens of Austin have seen that,” said Schwertner at a February press conference. “And now they want to transport their failed problems to Williamson County without the services, support, and the coordination necessary to benefit the homeless. This is wrong.”
As Schwertner’s government accountability proposal moves to the Texas House for debate and consideration, the state Legislature is also currently considering separate proposed laws to require public hearings before officials approve homeless hotel projects, as well as a statewide ban on public camping.
Concerned citizens may contact their state representatives.