Time for Austin to Help Our Homeless Population
There are a number of propositions on the May 1 ballot in Austin.
For commercial real estate, the most important one is probably Prop B – which would reinstate the citywide camping ban.
While I think that we should pass the Proposition to reinstate the ban, that cannot be the end of our activism. We must take the next step and help find housing for our fellow homeless citizens.
Most of the Texans reading this blog probably know that most counties have released property tax appraised values by now. As we have been discussing – its property tax season. We will likely get back to talking about them next week. But this week we are going to take a break from that.
We are taking that break because there is a big election coming up in Austin and I think its important to discuss that. So that’s what we will do.
Propositions on May Ballot
On May 1, Austinites will (hopefully) go to the polls to vote on a number of propositions. As an alternative, early voting started on Monday, April 19. And during early voting, you can vote at any of the voting locations in the city.
There are 8 total propositions and many of them are extremely important. We will decide, for example, whether Austin will switch to a strong mayor system or whether we will add an 11th council district. These and the other propositions are all very important issues and I encourage you to research all of them.
But this is nominally a commercial real estate blog – not a political one. As a result, we are going to focus only on the one that most affects commercial real estate – Prop B.
The Importance of Prop B
So what is Prop B? As you likely know, back in mid-2019, Austin repealed its citywide ban on camping in public. The repeal of that ban has been a disaster for the City. As Mayor Adler now admits – its just not working.
Since the repeal, campsites have been set up all around town – including in some of the most desirable areas. And, allegedly, the homeless population has increased. Its just not a sustainable situation.
As a result, a group called Save Austin Now has gathered enough signatures to get a proposition on the ballot (Prop B) that would reinstate the citywide camping ban. If it passes, camping on public lands will again be illegal. Its unclear how the City Council will react if it passes, but presumably the tents will be taken down and the homeless population will have to disperse.
I believe that most people have empathy for Austin’s homeless citizens and want to help them. But allowing camping like it is now cannot be the solution to that issue. It raises the potential for danger in those camping areas and severely devalues the surrounding communities. It is just NOT a viable solution to continue like this.
As a result, I will be voting for Prop B and I hope you will join me in doing so.
Prop B Cannot be the Final Move
But that cannot be the extent of our work on this issue. I do believe we have to make camping in public lands illegal again. But we also need to find a safe, productive solution for our homeless citizens. If we do the first without the second, we will have failed. A friend of mine told me this week that he thinks “that homelessness is a blight on America as a whole, a problem that has been around forever, and it's amazing that the richest nation in the world does not deal with this effectively.” He’s right.
We may disagree on how to help our fellow citizens, but not that we need to do it. I admit that I am not an expert in this area.
Recently Mayor Adler has talked about using some funds from the American Rescue Plan to help solve the homelessness crisis. And he has asked Travis County to chip in also. He has also talked about building 3000 units to house the homeless population.
In addition to those proposals, its important to look at the success that Community First! Village has had in Austin, as well as Haven for Hope in San Antonio. Both of these seem like great communities that have had very good success in helping people get off the street and into housing.
As I said, I do not know what the answer is – I’m not an expert. But I know what its not – allowing public camping. We, therefore, need to vote to approve Prop B on May 1. But we can’t stop there. We need to take the next step and help house our homeless citizens and solve this crisis. I hope to be part of that solution on May 1 – and starting on May 2 also.