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Tuesday, December 27, 2022 by Kali’s Bramble
In her eight years on the Austin City Council, Ann Kitchen has navigated both the emotions and the growing pains of second fastest growing city in the country. Kitchen has spent 2022 refining policies that he hopes will continue to address Austin’s housing crisis long after he leaves, when he will hand over the reins of District 5 to the incoming Councilmember. ryan alter.
Part of that legacy is the Housing-Focused Camping Assistance Link Initiative, or HEAL program, which was born after the camping ban was reinstated as an alternative to criminalizing homelessness. Since its inception in 2021, the program has provided 409 people with a pathway to housing, offering temporary accommodation in two converted hotels and assistance transitioning to something more permanent.
“I think HEAL has been successful as one part of our response to the (housing) crisis, but it needs to be expanded,” says Kitchen. “Right now it’s funded to help 200 people a year, and I don’t think it’s enough. However, we have found that almost 90 percent of people who are offered this option take it.”
As for going all the way, Kitchen acknowledges that there are still details to iron out: 48 percent of those who enter HEAL have left early. secure permanent housing, a rate he hopes could improve as the program reduces wait times at bridge shelters, which currently average four to five months. Of course, this will require more units, such as those offered at the recently renovated goodrich placewhich this year alone has brought 120 deeply affordable, sliding-scale public housing units online.
“The biggest problem has been the process of building affordable units, which has been slower than we thought,” she says. “But with the approval of this $350 million affordable housing voucherI am excited that more funding is being directed towards that effort.”
Elsewhere on the housing front, Kitchen is optimistic about Project Connect’s $300 million anti-displacement budget, set aside to resist further gentrification along the light rail and MetroRapid corridors planned for North Lamar, South Congress, Riverside and Pleasant Valley. Staff is currently working to fund a variety of neighborhood-specific needs, including rental assistance, home repairs, small business support, and affordable housing projects. The approach, called equitable transit-oriented developmentor ETOD, will be discussed again in February when the new Council considers the planning process and zoning changes.
Following conversations fueled by the pandemic and the 2020 George Floyd protests, Kitchen has also been rethinking the city’s approach to mental health crises. The result is the Austin Cares program, which places mental health professionals alongside 911 response teams to provide assistance while prevent escalation that can occur with an armed response from law enforcement.
Kitchen is also excited about the launch of the Austin Economic Development Corporation, designed to leverage funding to support both old and new creative spaces. Their first two projects, the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex and 7,000 square feet of space at the city’s Development and Permitting Center, got the green light from the Council this month. Efforts to preserve strongholds of the art scene such as the broken speechwhich readers can expect to continue after the holidays.
Mostly, though, Kitchen hopes the next Council will carry the housing torch, before more Austinites are forced to leave their city for good.
“I don’t believe in drip housing. Too often, the conversation misses that there are different solutions for different levels of income: we need more housing at levels that people can afford.”
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Published in: City hall, District 5
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