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Using the Statesman PUD to provide funds for housing the homeless

Posted: Mon Mar 28, 2022 12:14 pm
by Jose Chito Vela

Over the last few weeks, I have worked with the Homeless Services Division on the closure and rehousing of about 30 individuals who were camping in the St. John’s neighborhood. While we were able to ultimately secure housing for all the individuals at the campsite targeted for closure, I was struck with how few resources are available to immediately shelter someone. The HEAL initiative is overstretched and capable of providing housing for only a fraction of the people who need it. We simply don’t have enough immediate, temporary housing available to help everyone experiencing homelessness - even when a camp has been prioritized due to an approaching sweep.

While I am excited that the City of Austin and Travis County have jointly committed over $215 million to build enough housing for about 3000 people, those units are being contracted or constructed right now and will not be available for months or years. Long term help is on the way, but we need immediate, short term solutions.

I propose that instead of asking for on-site affordable housing at some point in the future, we use the PUD agreement to request the equivalent cash value of that on-site housing be paid to the city upon final approval of the PUD. This would leverage the PUD agreement to provide immediate funding for temporary housing for those experiencing homelessness. Getting our neighbors off the street today would do far more good than a relatively small number of affordable units sometime in the future when the project is finally built.

I would appreciate your thoughts and comments.



Re: Using the Statesman PUD to provide funds for housing the homeless

Posted: Mon Mar 28, 2022 3:43 pm
by Kathie Tovo
Dear Council Member Vela:

Thank you for your post. As the sponsor of the action to amend our Downtown Density Bonus Program to allow for fee-in-lieu dollars to be used for low-barrier housing vouchers for individuals experiencing homelessness (formerly these fees were designated for creating Permanent Supportive Housing only), I definitely understand your desire to identify additional sources of funding for needs within our homelessness response system.

As I mentioned when we first spoke about your idea of shifting PUD affordable housing dollars for this District 9 proposal to HEAL, I cannot support that measure. I do, however, support identifying other sources of funding for HEAL – I was a co-sponsor of HEAL, I have kept informed about its successful results, and I support continuing and increasing funding for that initiative. We could, for example, discuss whether to adjust our federal dollars to further address short-term needs, or we can look to shift other sources of funding to allocate more for emergency response.

My rationale: density bonus programs are one of our only tools under Texas law to require affordable housing as part of new development. I’ve long been an advocate for requiring on-site affordable housing within our density bonus programs – and this advocacy stretches back beyond my time on Council to include my service on the PUD stakeholder group that recommended adding affordable housing as a community benefit within this ordinance. It's one of the main ways we can further the aim of building affordable housing in all parts of town.

Both this District 9 PUD and the South Central Waterfront Plan have been through multi-year stakeholder processes, and affordable housing has been an issue of primary discussion throughout these conversations. I can say for certain that providing substantial on-site affordable housing on this site and others within the SCW will be key for me. It will also be key to meeting our Council-approved goal of having 20% of the new housing within the South Central Waterfront be affordable. To even come close to 20%, we’ll need all tracts to contribute toward that goal – including our city-owned tract, One Texas Center.

I look forward to continuing the discussion about funding for homelessness shelter, services, and housing. The Public Health Committee has a standing agenda item related to homelessness so that we can review HEAL, the ARPA investments, and other issues related to housing and services, so that might be a good venue to discuss possible budgetary shifts that could allocate more money to emergency shelter.



Re: Using the Statesman PUD to provide funds for housing the homeless

Posted: Tue Mar 29, 2022 10:45 pm
by Ann Kitchen
CM Vela

I appreciate your thoughts about additional resources for immediate shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness - whether through additional support for HEAL or other mechanisms. In discussions with our Homeless Strategy Office, I am expecting a proposal for at least one (or two) additional motel options to advance the HEAL initiative to come to Council within the next month or so.

This will be helpful, but not sufficient. As you point out, we are in need of immediate funding for temporary housing.

I understand CM Tovo's concerns related to maintaining funding for substantial, on-site housing at the PUD location. But I am intrigued by your ideas and am wondering whether there is an approach that can accomplish both goals. Development of on-site housing at the PUD location will take some time, and I would be interested in exploring options for leveraging PUD dollars immediately for temporary housing (similar to the lease arrangement the city pursued for COVID Pro-Lodges), while preserving the ability to timely fund, without delay, on-site affordable housing at the PUD location over time. This may not be possible - I'm simply expressing an interest in understanding what options might be available.

Thank you CM Vela, for your important work in the St John's neighborhood rehousing individuals. Your caring and proactive efforts to find solutions for our housing crisis are appreciated and welcomed.

I want to take this opportunity to again thank CM Tovo for her longstanding leadership addressing housing for everyone in our city and her efforts to find solutions for housing our unsheltered neighbors.

Ann Kitchen
City Council D5

Re: Using the Statesman PUD to provide funds for housing the homeless

Posted: Wed Mar 30, 2022 11:26 am
by Vanessa Fuentes
Thank you, CM Vela, for raising this opportunity. I appreciate the conversation on how we can bring additional resources for immediate shelter for our unhoused neighbors. I am very much interested in learning how we can do both: direct funding for housing individuals experiencing homelessness and requiring on-site affordable housing as part of the Statesman PUD.

Additionally, we are nearing the one-year mark of when we deliberated on how to best use the ARPA funding. It makes sense for us to revisit the funding framework to determine if adjustments are needed.

I look forward to discussing this in more detail during Work Session on Tuesday.

Yours in Community,

Re: Using the Statesman PUD to provide funds for housing the homeless

Posted: Thu Mar 31, 2022 5:43 pm
by Ann Kitchen
Thank you all for this conversation. I am interested, as CM Fuentes stated, in learning whether and how we could do both: direct funding for housing individuals experiencing homelessness and requiring on-site affordable housing as part of the Statesman PUD (and/or TIFF, if the Council decides to pursue that avenue). I was originally thinking with my earlier post of leveraging TIFF funding - but again that is not something the Council has made a determination on at this point.

I don't know what is possible - but consider it worth the conversation. So long as we do require on-site affordable housing - since the Statesman PUD area is along a major transit corridor and we will want to be sure there are opportunities for people at lower MFI levels to live close to transit.

Best Regards
Ann Kitchen

Re: Using the Statesman PUD to provide funds for housing the homeless

Posted: Tue Apr 05, 2022 5:15 pm
by Jose Chito Vela

After today's work session discussion on the Statesman PUD, I posted a list of questions on a new message board thread. Just wanted to let you know.