Austin Casts a Controversial Vote on Public Camping as the City Faces Growing Pains

Voters in Austin voted to reinstate a ban on public camping, taking steps to criminalize homelessness before the State Legislature could.

May 3, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Homeless Encampment

Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock

"In a hotly contested debate involving the city's homelessness crisis, 57% of voters said they were in favor of reinstating criminal penalties for camping in public spaces and 42% said they were not," reports Ryan Autollo.

The vote overturns a law approved by the City Council and Mayor Steve Adler two years ago. A law that would preempt local camping laws—written largely in response to the Austin law—had been progressing through the State Legislature.

Mayor Adler, conceding defeat in the Proposition B vote, pledged to reduce the city's homeless population before leaving office in 2023. "A plan he helped created with other government officials and nonprofit leaders calls for Austin to add 3,000 housing and shelter units in the next three years," according to Autollo.

The controversies over homelessness in the city are set in a context of rapid growth—with many newcomers arriving from California and potentially finding some of the dynamics they fled from on the West Coast already taking hold in Austin.

For example, the cost of housing, while still lower than San Francisco, is growing quickly. "According to Zillow, home prices in Austin are up more than 18% in the last year, creating a shortage of affordable housing," according to an article published by CBS News.

The comparisons to San Francisco are readily available in the CBS News coverage: "Laid-back and long known for its food and music scene, the capital of Texas has become one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. The downtown skyline is a ballet of cranes and new skyscrapers. Tech giants like Google and Apple are expanding their footprint, and Tesla is building a massive manufacturing plant here."

For now at least, however, the Austin offers more value than San Francisco, according to the new arrivals quoted in the article, one of which reports affording the rent for a three-bedroom home in Austin For the same price as an apartment in San Francisco.

Saturday, May 1, 2021 in Austin American-Statesman

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