WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas — It has been nine months since the Austin City Council voted to buy a hotel in Williamson County to help people experiencing homelessness. Now people who live near the hotel are voicing their concerns about what they said the purchase has done to their neighborhood.
Last August, the council approved the purchase of the Candlewood Suites hotel on Pecan Park Boulevard, near US 183 and State Highway 45, to house people experiencing homelessness. The hotel is located in Austin but also in Williamson County.
Williamson County commissioners pushed back against the purchase at the time.
During Tuesday's commissioners court meeting, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell shared photos that he said he has received from residents who live near the Candlewood Suites hotel. Gravell said the residents claim the Austin City Council's decision has brought crime to the neighborhood.
PHOTOS: Homeless camp near Candlewood Suites
Gravell released a statement on Tuesday, promising to find a solution for the residents' safety. Read the full statement below:
"I am deeply disappointed that once again the city of Austin has made decisions regarding their property in Williamson County without involving Williamson County leadership in coming up with solutions. I have heard from our residents that Austin’s property has brought crime to their neighborhood. They sent me pictures of what is going on in their neighborhood. The city of Austin made their problem Williamson County’s problem, so I promise our residents that I will work to find a solution. Our residents deserve to not live in fear."
But Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the City isn't at fault for the crime in the area.
"I had heard that the judge was somehow or another linking the City's ownership of a vacant building with [the] homelessness challenge that exists in Williamson County. And I don't see the connection," Adler said.
Williamson County commissioners said they were left in the dark about the plans to renovate the hotel and they filed a lawsuit to stop the process. Adler said homelessness is a regional challenge and the City hopes to work with Williamson County, along with other counties, to help those experiencing homelessness.
The City bought the hotel for $9.5 million to provide services, shelter and housing. Renovations were expected to cost $1.6 million. The hotel has 83 rooms that can serve as a temporary solution for people in need of housing, but it's unclear at this time when the hotel will be available for use.
On Thursday, Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly hosted a press conference to discuss recent vandalizations.
She said the fire department was called to the hotel recently after an alarm had been activated. Upon arrival, officials discovered people had been living inside the hotel. Kelly said she relayed that information to the city manager and Austin's homeless strategy office.
"I can assure you, the Candlewood is now secured," Kelly said. "There is an investigation by City staff to determine how this occurred and what, if any, security was onsite before."
She said she went to the hotel on Wednesday to assess any damages from the reported break-in. According to Kelly, damages expand all three floors of the building and "nearly every room." She added that copper wiring also appears to have been damaged and stolen.
"I want to be clear, this act of criminal behavior is not OK," she said. "Our city has a goal of creating a safe and sustainable place for those experiencing homelessness. The criminal activity at Candlewood does nothing but harm our city and create further delay in helping to reach the City's goal in providing help and housing to people in the community that need it the most."
She said the Williamson County Sheriff's Office and Austin police are investigating.
City leaders on May 19 will discuss an item to contract with Family Eldercare to renovate the property and 78 rooms for permanent supportive housing. Kelly said she has also requested an executive session to discuss security concerns at vacant City properties. She also said that the City is looking into 24-hour security at Candlewood until it opens up to services.
Anyone with information on the vandalization is asked to call 512-472-8477.