Councilor Looks At Austin American-Statesman Homeless Financing Site Plan

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin city council member thinks the redevelopment of the former Austin American-Statesman site could help fund more temporary housing for people who are homeless.

dist. 4 Councilor Jose ‘Chito’ Vela put forward the idea this week in a message to his colleagues on the city council bulletin board.

As KXAN has reported, the proposed plan for the 19 acres surrounding the newspaper’s old headquarters is expected to bring high-rise buildings, hotels and residential units to the south shore of Lady Bird Lake.

Under the agreement, the developer would have to include a number of affordable housing units.

Vela suggested that the city instead allow the developer to “cash in” the requirement by paying a fee. The money (an amount to be determined) would then be funneled into the city’s HEAL initiative for homeless housing solutions, such as renting more hotel space.

View of the proposed Austin American-Statesman site redevelopment (Image: City of Austin)

“Getting our neighbors off the streets today would yield a lot more than a relatively small number of affordable units at some point in the future,” Vela said.

Current estimates put the number of unhoused residents in Austin at 3,200.

Vela said that although the city and Travis County have collectively pledged $215 million to build homes for 3,000 people, these projects could be 12 to 18 months from completion.

Mayor Steve Adler told KXAN he is open to investigating Vela’s proposal.

“I really appreciate the creativity,” Adler said. “I think there might be a promise in it” [the idea]†

dist. 9 Councilor Kathie Tovo expressed her opposition in a response to Vela’s message on the bulletin board, saying that affordable housing is an important part of the Statesman plan.

“I cannot support that measure,” Tovo wrote. “However, I support identifying other sources of funding for HEAL.”

KXAN spoke to Dist. 5 Councilor Ann Kitchen, who said she’d like to see the council explore options, though she’s also concerned.

†[The Statesman site] is in an area that Project Connect and the railroad will pass through,” Kitchen said. “For lower-income people, it’s important to have affordable units in this area.”

The council is expected to consider Vela’s proposal at its working meeting next Tuesday.

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