DALLAS — Voters in Austin will get to reconsider whether to ban homeless camping in public places during an election this spring. Austin Mayor Steve Adler told Inside Texas Politics on Sunday he was uncertain just what voters will decide.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the election. My hope is that voters aren’t going to take us back to where we were before, because that that wasn’t working, and our homeless challenge was growing exponentially. At the same time, I drive around this city, too, and see the same things that are concerning a lot of people. We have to have a third choice,” the mayor said.
Later this month, non-profits, advocacy organizations, faith groups and others will brainstorm a third potential option, he added.
Homeless camps in public places have exploded downtown after city council removed a local ban in 2019. It has resulted in highly visible encampments, with unhealthy conditions.
Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to intervene if Austin doesn’t correct the issue.
But the city is struggling with affordable housing and the search for a permanent solution to a growing problem.
Last week, a group called Save Austin Now successfully got more than 26,000 signatures to force the issue back on the May ballot.
“I don’t know how it will turn out,” Adler said of the upcoming spring vote.
The mayor also discussed how his city is restructuring its police department and whether that will create problems with the majority-Republican legislature that’s in session right now.
Abbott wants to punish cities that “defund police,” and is asking the legislature to freeze property tax rates for cities that cut police budgets.
Last August, Austin city council voted to eliminate $150 million from the police department’s budget. Of that, about $21 million dollars will be used for violence prevention and permanent housing services.
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When asked if Austin might have to restore that money to police, Adler said, “I don’t know what will happen in the legislature.”
He explained the situation is more complicated after city council separated the city’s forensic lab from the police department and made it an independent department that reports directly to the city manager, rather than the police chief.
“Was that a defunding action? I don’t think it was. But they all get lumped in with each other,” Adler told Inside Texas Politics.
Finally, as the vaccination effort limps along in the state, some of Texas’ largest events have had to cancel or again drastically alter their programs for a second consecutive year because of COVID19.
RodeoHouston canceled its event this year and SXSW will be largely on-line.
Adler was asked if Austin City Limits might be an in-person event this fall.
“I’m pretty confident that by October, we’re going to be able to do that in-person event,” he said. “My sense is there’ll be an increase in vaccines. I will be surprised, as we’re going into the summer, that everyone who wants a vaccine hasn’t had a chance to get it."
Adler was also hopeful of the future beyond the pandemic, even with more challenges lying ahead.
"I think we’re going to come out of this – there’s a lot of work to do between now and then. I keep reminding my community keep wearing your masks. It’s still going to be a while – but by this summer, I think we’re going to be in a different place.”