Police can start issuing citations to homeless residents who continue camping in restricted areas on Sunday, more than a month after Austin voters approved Prop B. But Austin City Council has yet to identify places where such residents can go, legally and safely.
Members shelved discussion of the topic during virtual meetings on Monday and Tuesday, citing time constraints, and mostly rejected city staff's suggestions for potential sanctioned encampment sites last month. Meanwhile, the grounds of City Hall remain the site of a camp-in protest.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler acknowledged that the council had "danced around" the topic during a special called meeting Monday. "With Proposition B and the vote of the community I think we have an obligation to stop people from camping and tenting in public spaces, and the (city) manager's been charged with that," he said.
Tents and protesters have remained outside City Hall, but soon police will be able to issue citations for campers. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Where we are now
City staff say they need more direction from council on how to designate such campsites and how to pay for them—and time is running out. Council breaks for a six-week summer recess next week, and Adler has signaled that he hopes to take up the land development code, arguably as contentious an issue as homelessness, on the other side.
In response to members' concerns about the proposed campsites, Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey issued a memo last week with more specific criteria, including:
- Potential 2-year temporary use
- At least 2 acres per 50 people
- Access to public transportation and basic retail services
- Low wildfire and flood risk
- Proximity to schools
But she added that such criteria "severely limits the use of City-owned land as an option for consideration," and staff need more policy direction on how to proceed.
Grey also presented an implementation schedule, which would see:
- Congregate shelters, such as the ARCH and Salvation Army, expand their capacity by July now that the pandemic is less acute
- The conversion of an existing ProLodge into a bridge shelter, where people can stay temporarily while permanent housing is being arranged, and the possible lease of an additional motel property for the same purpose
- The opening of at least one designed encampment site by July
But its implementation hinges on council providing such direction by Thursday, says city staff. There is no agenda item regarding encampments, which means council can't take formal action.
"Austinites aren't getting what they voted for; they're getting the runaround; and getting angrier and more fired up to oust all existing leadership as a result," Save Austin Now tweeted Monday.
How we got here
Austin City Council overturned the ban in 2019 after a successful campaign by advocates, who argued that it criminalized homelessness. In the wake of this decision, homelessness grew more visible, with encampments forming along Lady Bird Lake, and a series of fires stoked concerns.
Austin residents voted to reinstate the ban during the May 1 election after a successful counter-campaign spearheaded by the local political action committee Save Austin Now.
The city of Austin announced a multi-phase plan to reimplement the ban, which applies to sitting, lying and panhandling as well as camping in parts of central Austin.
Council also revisited the idea of sanctioned encampments—areas homeless can be with some amenities and without fear of arrest—which they had previously abandoned due to concerns about costs and permanency. But when staff presented 45 options last month, members pushed back.
"I'm committed to trying to find a way to make this work," District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool said during a May 18 work session, echoing many of her colleagues. "But the sites that you've designated… they just won't work."
This story has been updated at 10:30 a.m. to include confirmation by city staff that: "There is no agenda item regarding encampments, which means council can't take formal action."
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Officials are asking certain residents in Bastrop State Park to evacuate as crews work to put out a “very active fire” that is currently 0% contained.
The Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to help local fire departments with the Rolling Pines Fire at 100 Park Road 1A, which is consuming 300 acres. Residents of Pine Hill Drive, Pine Tree Loop, Linda Lane and Lisa Lane are being asked to evacuate.
Today’s Bastrop Rolling Pines Fire is burning along Power Plant Road towards Lake Bastrop South Shore. pic.twitter.com/YCvJkIAg1u
— BastropCntyTexas OEM (@BastropCntyOEM) January 18, 2022
Aviation resources have been called to assist.
According to the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management, the wildfire sparked during a prescribed burn that took place today, despite wildfire warnings. Park Road 1C from Harmon Road to Park Road 1A had been closed for the prescribed burn.
The blaze is in the same location as the Bastrop Complex Fire of 2011, which burned for 55 days, killing two people, destroying 34,000 acres and around 1,700 homes and buildings. The fire, which started in 2011, became the most destructive wildfire in Texas at the time.
A hotbed for fires, the Hidden Pines Fire started at the same location in 2015, destroying 4,600 acres and 64 structures.
Some road closures have been put in place at State Highway 21 South Shore Lake Bastrop and East State Highway 21.
This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
After months of record-setting periods for Austin real estate, the Austin Board of Realtors announced Tuesday that the metro's housing market accounted for over $23 billion of economic activity in 2021, making it the biggest year yet for both home sales and median home prices in the metro.
The Austin-Round Rock MSA saw 41,316 homes sold in 2021, 2.5% more than a record-setting 2020. Median home prices skyrocketed as well, rising 30.8% from 2020 to $450,000. The housing market also saw unprecedented impact on Austin's economy, with sales dollar volume jumping to over $23.38 billion, and more homes hit the market in 2021 than any previous year, increasing by 5.9% to 46,449 total homes listed.
(Austin Board of Realtors)
As many recent Austin homebuyers have experienced firsthand, Austin Board of Realtors 2022 President Cord Shiflet said 2021 was the most "exciting, complicated, fast-paced and record-setting housing market" in Austin's history.
Shiflet dubbed the market as "complicated" for a reason—Austin became a case study on supply and demand in 2021, with demand far outpacing the number of active listings, which dropped by 48.2% to 2,348 homes in 2021.
The metro ended the year with 0.6 months of inventory, a far cry from a "healthy" six-month supply, and houses were snatched at breakneck speeds, spending 25 fewer days on the market when compared to 2020. The average home was on the market for 20 days.
But low inventory is more due to high demand than a stagnant homebuilding market, Mark Sprague, Independence Title's state director of information capital, said in the report.
“In 2021, the record number of homes sold were demand-driven transactions and that demand was influenced greatly by companies continuing to target the region for job creation and expansion," Sprague said. "Even though more homes are being built, listed and sold than ever before, our region is still nowhere close to having a comfortable amount of supply to meet the demand, which is why home prices continue to rise steadily.”
Over 23,000 jobs have been promised by companies across the metro as of December 2021, breaking the 2020 record, according to Opportunity Austin, the economic development arm of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. With an influx of major factories and offices, including Tesla's Giga Texas, Samsung's Taylor plant and a planned 33-floor Facebook office, Sprague said the region's booming market paired with a struggling inventory and supply chain issues could be a double-edged sword in 2022.
"In short, 2022 will see a robust market for home sales and property values, but the region must do more to address inventory, ” Sprague said.
Shiflet recommended that potential homebuyers make a decision ahead of predicted increases in interest rates and home prices and said that he hopes local politicians will continue to prioritize affordable housing in the election year.
Still, Shiflet said a record-breaking housing market reflects Austin's growing reputation as a hub for talent, tech jobs and a good quality of life.
"With all the new jobs across the region from exciting companies like Tesla and Samsung, Austin was put on the world’s stage and captured the hearts and attention of so many," Shiflet said. "We are lucky to call Austin our home when it has so much to offer from a great quality of life to a wonderful destination for innovation and opportunity.”
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