Council commits to ‘transformational’ spending on homeless people – if others do too

City council’s plan to spend the city’s majority share of the American Rescue Plan Act money on the homeless is gaining momentum, with a vote slated for Thursday to approve a spending framework for the 143, $ 6 million in federal stimulus money.

City workers are proposing to spend $ 84 million – or 58% – of ARPA money on various homeless services, though city council may change that amount by Thursday.

But there’s a big caveat when it comes to spending for the homeless: the county government and philanthropists must join in as well.

It would take $ 515 million over the next two years to fix the problem, according to staff members, who based their estimate on a recent homelessness summit with local stakeholders. Even with ARPA funds, the city alone could not provide this amount, making the project joint “transformational” spending effort close to an all-or-nothing bet on solving homelessness.

If everyone agrees, Council estimates that the city can effectively end homelessness by providing 3,000 homes in three years. If others do not adhere, the council may decide to stick to the current budget for roaming and spend less of the ARPA funds on roaming.

City employees, based on previous council guidelines, recommend spending the majority of ARPA’s remaining $ 143.6 million on homelessness. Chart by city of Austin.

At Monday’s special meeting, Mayor Steve Adler described the issues: “If you look at other cities that haven’t approached this problem in this way, the challenge continues to grow… I don’t know what you are doing. do if you are in Los Angeles. or Portland or San Francisco or Seattle, because the scale of their challenge is so much greater than what we’re dealing with.

Adler said that because Austin’s problem isn’t that extreme yet, there’s still a chance to fix it. “If we don’t act,” Adler said, “I think the penalty the city will pay for it six or eight years from now will be huge.”

If the city’s spending framework is approved, the next step will be to court Travis County and philanthropists. So far, none have revealed plans to spend a lot of money on homeless people, perhaps waiting for the city to take the first step.

Board member Alison Alter said the lack of membership so far is in part “because we don’t have the details. We couldn’t find a way to communicate.

Staff provided proposed categories of roaming expenses. Image of the city of Austin.

Alter and board member Leslie Pool said they weren’t ready for a vote on Thursday, preferring to gather more details, community feedback and outside support during the month-long summer vacation and half of the Council. If the Council postpones the matter, it would be until July 29.

Most Council members opposed the postponement of the vote. Council member Ann Kitchen argued that the contingency on funds addresses Alter’s concern. “We’ll want to revisit how we allocate the dollars if we don’t get those commitments, but we’re not spending those dollars now.”

ARPA funds will be allocated during this fiscal year and the next, pending Board approval. $ 44.8 million has already been spent on public health services linked to Covids and a website portal where people can request various types of relief money.

Council members agreed that occasional checks with city staff would provide assurance as to how homeless funds are being used and flexibility to change how funds are spent. The council will have other opportunities to weigh in, such as approving contracts with homeless service providers or purchasing new hotels for permanent supportive housing.

Council members also stressed the importance of good communication with voters.

“We have not been able to invest enough in these areas, but we have made investments,” said Kathie Tovo, Board member. “I know it’s really hard for our community to understand when they see that we haven’t yet housed each of our neighbors who experience homelessness, but I really think it’s important that we communicate clearly with our audience about it. ”

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