HNA Meeting Minutes for December 8, 2021

HNA regular meeting, December 8, 2021

President Coan Dillahunty called the meeting to order at 7:03 pm.

Coan summarized the online meeting the Parks and Recreation Department led on December 2 about the Hancock Golf Course. The course has made more than a $70K profit in 2021, which the department surmises is due to people’s activities changing during the pandemic and increased interest in golf across the board. The 2022 fiscal year is also off to a good start. PARD began by recapping the process it’s gone through; the focus on Hancock Golf Course began with a revenue shortfall and the city putting forward the idea of a concession agreement to bring in more money. Most recently PARD had said it would reevaluate its options after analyzing 2021 revenue. Now that those numbers are in, PARD has decided to continue running the course as it is, without a concession agreement. PARD wants to enhance the hybrid model and partner with other nongolf uses in the space. There are still challenges with equipment needs and safety corridors and a continued emphasis on financial solvency. There was some discussion at the meeting about concerns about the methodology of the survey PARD distributed about the future of the space. Timeline going forward: PARD plans to provide a memo to council, likely in January, about revenue improvement for the golf division and Hancock in particular, and include ideas about shared use.

The Parks committee did not have any updates at this time.

Officer nominations: Coan explained that our bylaws state that nominations need to be made 30 days in advance of the January meeting. As we did last year, we can take nominations via groups.io. If you’re interested in serving, you can volunteer/nominate yourself, or have someone nominate you by December 19. If folks are interested in meeting to talk about the experience of being an officer, we could hold an ‘open house’ at Jo’s during happy hour.

Due to increasing work and family obligations, Coan is not running for a second term. For similar reasons Robyn Ross is not running for a second term as secretary, but she will continue running the newsletter. Robyn encouraged people not to assume they’re not qualified to run for office simply because they haven’t been involved in a committee before.

Coan moved to adopt the minutes from the September 15 meeting, Hugh Bender seconded, and his dogs thirded the motion. The group voted to adopt the minutes.

Denise Cavanaugh, recreation programs specialist from the Hancock Recreation Center, gave an update on the Rec Center. She has worked with the city six years and oversees after-school programs, toddler programs, day camps and summer programs, and special events like the candlelight trail on the golf course. The Rec Center is not doing the trail this year but instead will host a virtual gingerbread-house-building contest (the Rec Center provides the kits). The Rec Center is also hosting virtual storytime with Mrs. Claus at 11 am on Saturday, Dec. 18 on Zoom. Staff will also be at this Saturday’s art fair at Fresh Plus.

Ms. Cavanaugh would like Hancock neighbors age 50 and older to complete a survey about programs they’d like to see at the Rec Center. Staff are planning to expand the number of programs for this age group. The survey is at this link:

Coan asked when we might be able to meet at the Rec Center again, and Ms. Cavanaugh said they’re hoping in 2022. She shared her email address: Denise.Cavanaugh@austintexas.gov

The Transportation Committee gave an update about I-35.
Hannes Mandel explained that the committee submitted the statement HNA voted to adopt in September to TxDOT. In mid-October we received a response that just said, “We received your input.” TxDOT held another public meeting in September but didn’t offer new information.

Hannes said he hopes there has been progress between the city and TxDOT as council members have become more outspoken on the issue of I-35.
He shared information about an upcoming virtual meeting (visit this page any time between December 15 and January 15): austintexas.gov/atxcapstitch
The cap-and-stitch plan is good for downtown, but we would like to see those efforts in our area too.

Next steps: We plan to invite representatives from TxDOT and Project Connect to present in January or, if that’s too soon, perhaps at a special meeting in February or at our March meeting. The idea is to get past the standard TxDOT presentation and have these two experts talk to one another about TxDOT incorporating (or, thus far, not incorporating) Project Connect ridership projections into its model. Having both of them in the room at the same time would increase the chance of actually getting answers. To do this successfully, we will need to determine the best possible questions to ask them. Hannes will share a few ideas via groups.io in the next couple weeks. Some other ways to approach the argument are by scrutinizing TxDOT’s logic about the amount of local traffic on I-35 and its refusal to consider sending some traffic to SH 130, and to scrutinize TxDOT’s approach to traffic modeling, which has produced some inaccurate results in the past.

Project Connect: At this point, most meetings are about the Orange and Blue lines that are not in our immediate neighborhood. Hannes encouraged people to continue to be involved. Right now PC is holding meetings about the design of stations along the Drag. At some point the Gold Line (on Red River) will be part of the conversation.

Kitten Holloway said that we first need to get TxDOT and Project Connect to agree to attend a meeting, and then the task will be to develop specific and structured questions so we don’t get same canned responses we’ve gotten before. If you have questions, ask via groups.io “re: transportation committee.” Kitten said that her team could use some help figuring out how to structure these questions – if you would like to help with this project, please post to groups.io and we’ll get in touch.

David Guarino asked whether anyone has asked the US Department of Transportation about its position on I-35. Hannes said that in the past, Brendan Wittstruck (the leader of the North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition) has been skeptical that USDOT would intervene. It has intervened in the proposed expansion of I-45 in Houston, but the conditions are a bit different. But we should investigate this; the idea of removing highways instead of adding them is gaining traction nationally.

Leila Levinson announced that the art fair would be held Saturday. It’s officially called the Hyde Park Art Fair because it’s physically in that neighborhood, but it’s for both neighborhoods and has been organized by Leila L and Mary Trahanovsky, both HNA members. The fair will have 34 booths with 31 artists (including David Guarino), mostly from Hyde Park and Hancock, and a literary table.

Hugh Bender reported on a zoning issue pertaining to parcels of land on the frontage road north of Concordia. It has resurfaced after coming before the Zoning Committee in the past. The Zoning Committee, then consisting of Hugh, Bart Whatley, Linda Guerrero and Carolyn Palaima, met with the developer over six months, researched the issue, and last August brought it before HNA. Members voted that we would support a height of 90 feet, not 120 as requested, and we wanted to see firm commitments to including affordable housing since the current PUD was written so poorly that builders can get around complying with affordable housing requirements. HNA also asked for conditions regarding the use of reflective glass; parkland; and green buffering with the neighborhood, with the additional height. There’s been no news since then, and the Planning and Zoning Commission and Austin Water rejected the height increase. The developer is still requesting the additional height and offering nothing in return – this will be considered at the Planning Commission on December 14, which Hugh said earned a strong ‘no’ vote from him personally. Coan will relay the previous HNA resolution to the commission.

Proposal to increase HNA dues:
HNA Secretary and newsletter editor Robyn Ross explained that our newsletter is designed, printed and mailed by a company called Neighborhood News. NN charges $250/issue, or $1500/year for six issues. Paper and postage costs have been increasing, but our current contract goes through May 2022. Our current dues of $5/household are not sufficient to cover this cost. This year we dipped into our savings to support the newsletter, but a sustainable model would be better going forward.

Therefore, the following changes are recommended:
Charge dues per member, not per household, which also facilitates easier recordkeeping: one person, one membership fee, one vote.
Charge $7/person.
We currently have about 250 members. If we retained this membership, $7/person would generate $1750, more than enough to cover the newsletter. If we went this route, most households would pay $14 rather than $5. However, we are not limited to 250 members – we can encourage others to join, which is good for a number of reasons.
Robyn said that similar neighborhood associations charge a bit more than we do (and we haven’t raised dues in at least 10, maybe 20, years).

A motion was made to raise dues to $7/person and passed unanimously.

Robyn reminded people to contribute their stories about Little Free Libraries and about Lee Elementary for the January newsletter.

Coan adjourned the meeting.




HNA Meeting Minutes for September 15, 2021

Video of the meeting: https://youtu.be/vQ8GRKN57VE

Minutes from our September 15, 2021 HNA meeting

HNA President Coan Dillahunty called the meeting to order at 7:03 pm.

Coan gave an update on the golf course. At the latest Parks Board meeting in August, staff gave an update on the budget. The fiscal year ends at the end of September, and for the first time in a long time the course will be profitable. A record number of rounds have been played, and the course made a $71K profit. PARD will come back with more community engagement opportunities after the final budget numbers are in, maybe October-November.

Treasurer Bruce Fairchild reported on our financial situation. Our checking account started with about $4284, added $35 in dues, spent $250 for the newsletter, and ended with a balance of about $4068. The money market account remained steady at $2510.

Bruce moved to adopt the minutes from the July meeting and the motion was seconded by David Guarino.

Joanna Wolaver announced the upcoming Waller Creek cleanup on Saturday, November 6, It’s My Park Day. Joanna has organized volunteer cleanup days in a professional capacity in the past. Volunteers should meet at the northwest corner of Hancock Golf Course and will go up and down the creek between 9 and noon.

Coan encouraged members to get in touch if they were interested in serving on any committees, such as parks, transportation or zoning.

Andrew Clamann and Staryn Wagner of the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department presented about Waller Creek’s water quality and riparian stewardship. Andrew oversees the city’s water-quality sampling program, and Staryn is an environmental scientist.

Andrew began by explaining the water-quality sampling program, called the Environmental Integrity Index. Its goal is to protect the chemical, biological and physical integrity of Austin’s surface water – not just in the creek itself, but the entire riparian zone. This program monitors 50 creeks, and the quality of any section of creek can be viewed via an interactive web map at ATXWatersheds.com

The EII measures several aspects of creek health, including nutrients, bacteria and physical habitat. Nutrients are primarily forms of nitrogen and phosphorus, which, in excess, contribute to the overgrowth of algae and decrease of oxygen available for fish. In urban neighborhoods, sources of these nutrients include lawn fertilizer and waste from cats, dogs and chickens.

What can residents do?

  • If possible, don’t use fertilizer at all.
  • If you must fertilize, apply the minimum amount, and avoid doing so before a rain.
  • Keep lawn clippings and brush out of the creek (they cause problems as they decay).
  • Try to mulch these or leave them on your yard, or set them out for the city to pick up.
  • Scoop the poop, including in your yard.

The part of the creek that runs through Hancock is called the Waller 3 reach. Its most recent quality assessment rates it “fair,” and it ranks in the bottom 20% of creek health. It rated lowest for “contact recreation,” meaning the quality of the water for human health. Quarterly sampling has revealed e.coli bacteria, which is typically an indicator of the presence of other pathogens. In terms of quantifiable values of creek health, below 126 is “good” for e.coli, and anything greater than 399 is bad. Average values for Waller Creek are over 1000, so this is an issue. Culprits could include feces from wildlife, dogs and cats, as well as potential leaks in the wastewater lines that run down the middle of the creek. (The city tries to identify suspected leaks, but it can be difficult to pinpoint them.)

Another challenge for Waller Creek is “urban creek syndrome,” in which urban creeks fill up right after big rains and then are practically empty again the next day. In the lower reaches of urban creeks there’s often not enough base flow to support habitat for aquatic life, and the banks are eroded. Creeks outside the city tend to have more even, constant flows as the entire riparian zone absorbs and releases water. Urban creek syndrome results partly from impervious cover causing lots of runoff during storms.

How can we reverse that trend? We need to slow down stormwater and give it a chance to clean itself and soak into the soil.

  • Use rain gardens – sculpt your lawn so it hangs onto water rather than letting it run off
  • Use rain barrels to capture water that hits your roof
  • A rule of thumb is to retain the first 1.8 inches of rain
  • Plant plants with deeper roots. St. Augustine grass has very shallow roots, but plants and grasses with deeper roots help break up the soil and let rain soak in.

To protect the health of the creek we can also report polluters (someone throwing their lawn waste into the creek or a car wash that lets soap run off) via the 24-hour pollution hotline, 512-974-2550.

Andrew also encouraged us to support political leaders that support the environment, because sometimes the City of Austin is limited in the rules it can make by other governmental entities.

Staryn Wagner then spoke about riparian zone stewardship. The riparian zone is the interface of the terrestrial and aquatic environments and plays a critical role in the health of streams. A good riparian zone has a flat or gently sloping floodplain within 50 or 100 feet of the stream, with plants that slow down water in flood events.

Helping riparian zones improves both water quality and water quantity. When the land near the creek can hold water in the soil, the creek has more base flow in dry times. Healthy riparian zones slow down storm water, reduce erosion, build healthier soil and sustain base flow and life in the creek.

The city has made a major shift to help riparian zones through its Grow Zone program, which started in 2011. The Watershed Department has jurisdiction over the stream in the creek channel, and the Parks and Recreation Department has jurisdiction over the area outside the channel. At about 50 areas across the city, Watershed and PARD agreed that PARD would stop mowing for 10 to 50 feet from streams that run through parks. This has helped plants near the creek grow larger and grow roots that help hold the soil together.

The city and residents have worked on several riparian zone restorations where an amazing number of plants have returned to creek banks in less than a decade. The closest one to Hancock is Willowbrook Reach in the Cherrywood neighborhood, and everyone is encouraged to go check it out.

Watershed has created a creekside homeowners’ guide with best practices for creek health and recommendations for types of plants to use in landscaping. If you live near the creek and would like to talk about how to help, contact Andrew or Staryn at 512-974-2550.

During the Q&A, a question was asked about the use of fertilizer on the Hancock Golf Course. The answer from Watershed was that it would be good to ask PARD this question. We do know the course uses reclaimed water, which is high in nutrients, for watering. Watershed did a study on golf courses and parks that use reclaimed water to see what effects it has on creeks, and the stretch of Waller Creek that runs through Hancock did not show an overload of nutrients from that source.

Next, Stephanie McDonald of Central Health spoke about the healthcare district’s plans for the Sears building at Hancock Center.

Central Health is the Travis County healthcare district, a local government entity with taxing authority that provides healthcare for people with low incomes who otherwise would not have access to care. Central Health partners with Ascension Seton and offers the Medical Access Program for people who meet income and other eligibility guidelines. Most of this care is provided through CommUnity Care Clinics (including the one at Hancock Center, which has offered Covid testing and other services during the pandemic). Central Health also offers the Sendero HMO insurance plans for people who have low incomes but are able to pay premiums.

Central Health has purchased the Sears building to consolidate administrative operations in the upper floor. The bottom floor will likely be transformed into healthcare space, perhaps for the provision of cardiology and neurology. The basement under Sears is no longer built out. Central Health will be working on the design in the fall, and Stephanie can update us when they are farther along.

Finally, HNA members discussed a response to TxDOT regarding its plans to expand I-35 through Central Austin. Hannes Mandel, Kitten Holloway and Robyn Ross are the Transportation committee and drafted a statement for the neighborhood to review.

Robyn presented background about TxDOT’s process so far:

TxDOT’s overall project is called the I-35 Capital Express and runs from SH 45 in Round Rock to SH 45 in Buda. The Capital Express Central section is the 8 miles from 290 in the north to Ben White in the south.

The Transportation committee has been working with NCINC, the North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition, which was formed in 2000 and comprises 12 neighborhoods focusing on the area from roughly MLK to Airport. Some NCINCers have been monitoring I-35 developments for 20 years and have been a good source of expertise.

What’s already been decided:

  • In response to community feedback, TxDOT is going to remove the upper decks and lower the roadway below ground level through central Austin.
  • It’s also going to add two managed lanes in each direction.
  • Managed lanes = non-tolled but prioritize buses, carpools and vanpools.

TxDOT Public Scoping Meeting #1 (online), Nov. 12-December 31, 2020

TxDOT presented three alternatives and a no-build alternative.
Alternative #1 The main lanes were lowered below street level, and the managed lanes were tunneled under them.
Alternative #2 The main lanes and managed lanes were side by side, lowered below street level. In our part of the project this was 19 total lanes across including the main lanes, managed lanes and frontage road.
Alternative #3 was the same as #2, with main lanes and managed lines side by side, but with “managed lane overpasses at Airport Boulevard and Woodland Avenue.”

TxDOT Public Scoping Meeting #2 (online), March 11-April 9, 2021

TxDOT did not present new alternatives but took feedback on the alternatives it had already presented. At this point TxDOT said it had received more than 2,300 comments, which included
requests for it to evaluate impacts to community health and equity, consider other design alternatives including decks over the freeway or replacing I-35 with an urban boulevard, analyze climate change and greenhouse gases, prioritize safety, and divert traffic to SH 130.

TxDOT Virtual Public Meeting #3 (online), August 10-September 24, 2021

TxDOT has eliminated Alternative #1 (tunneling the managed lanes) because of concerns about cost and emergency vehicle access. In NCINC meetings and at the recent Cherrywood open house we heard that a number of people had preferred that alternative. TxDOT has not released the “votes” for each alternative.

Alternatives #2 and #3 both remove the upper decks and place all the lanes next to each other.

  • In our neighborhood this is mostly 18 lanes across, including frontage lanes.
  • Downtown, the plans show a lowered freeway and crossings at 8th, 7th, 6th and 5th as well as a train and bike crossing at 4th street. This adds connectivity between east and west in downtown.
  • The only difference between alternatives 2 and 3 between Airport and MLK is that Alternative 3 elevates the managed lanes from the rest of the freeway to cross Airport and the railroad tracks there.

Right-of-way impact:

  • Between 30th and 38th ½ on the east side the difference is notable. Half of the block between the frontage road and Robinson is taken for the freeway – this includes the Stars Café, the Days Inn, Escuelita del Alma preschool, Chicas Bonitas, Dreamers and so forth. On the west side, the ROW is significantly expanded to the walls of the Public Storage building, the Austin Chronicle, the Bank of America, and Dura-Tune.
  • There is not a significant change at the Concordia site or St. David’s.
  • It looks like one house at the end of 43rd is directly affected.

Next steps for TxDOT:

  • Sept. 24 is the public comment deadline for this round.
  • Fall 2022: TxDOT will present its “preferred alternative.” The public will have 60 days this time to provide comments.
  • Summer 2023: TxDOT will present its “selected alternative.”
  • Construction begins late 2025.

The transportation committee was informed by four main principles:

  • TxDOT’s mission is to facilitate the flow of traffic, but the committee does not think this should come at the expense of other quality of life concerns, like the noise and pollution in our neighborhood, and our ability to travel in ways other than cars.
  • Traffic gets very congested on I-35 and a solution is needed, but in many other settings adding lanes has not fixed congestion. New lanes quickly fill up as people choose to use them and additional freeway-dependent development is built. This is called “induced demand.”
  • The committee is concerned about vehicle emissions’ contribution to climate change and the fact that the TxDOT plans don’t fully take into account the Project Connect public transit plan Austinites voted for in 2020 and will be paying for going forward. TxDOT says 85% of I-35 traffic is local, and Project Connect’s buses and light rail are designed to take local vehicles off the roads. As of March 2021, TxDOT representatives said they had not modeled the impact of Project Connect.
  • Neighborhood volunteers are not engineers and should not be expected to provide a structural solution for I-35. But they are experts on what it’s like to live near I-35, and TxDOT should listen to us for that reason.

Kitten then introduced and read the statement and took feedback and questions, paragraph by paragraph.

Snow White and Coan asked about “stitches” (multimodal connections between east and west) and Hannes showed the roll plot map of the freeway sections and stitches near Hancock.

Lynn Saarinen suggested the addition of stated concerns about neighborhood traffic and noise, and Trevor Hackett suggested finessing the language in the action items. Kristene Blackstone pointed out a copyedit.

Beth Kelley moved that HNA adopt the statement with these changes, and multiple people seconded. The vote to adopt the statement was unanimous.

Hannes encouraged everyone to submit individual comments to TxDOT by Sept. 24 and highlighted an upcoming TxDOT public meeting on Sept. 30 as well as Project Connect meetings tentatively slated for later in the fall.

The final statement, as follows, was submitted to TxDOT by the Sept. 24 deadline:

The Hancock Neighborhood Association opposes TxDOT’s current plans for the I-35 Capital Express Central project. The schematics provided on August 10, 2021, reflect TxDOT’s insufficient attention to community feedback and represent unnecessary harm to north central neighborhoods.

Expanding I-35 to 20 – and in some areas 22 – lanes will induce thousands of additional vehicle trips per day through central Austin, offsetting potential gains in traffic safety, increasing emissions and noise pollution, degrading air quality, exacerbating health conditions, likely contributing to further neighborhood traffic congestion, and obstructing Austin’s Community Climate Plan target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. All this for an expansion that will not relieve con­gestion, as stated by TxDOT’s own District Engineer Tucker Ferguson in a presentation to Austin City Council on August 31.

We find these plans to be indefensible in light of the already unfolding climate crisis, which requires that we all think more carefully and creatively about how we travel. We also find them to be outdated, as they do not sufficiently take into account – let alone strategically integrate – the Project Connect plans for extensive light rail service and additional bus service that will reduce Austinites’ need for vehicle trips.

We do applaud TxDOT’s intent to remove the upper decks, which bring noise into the entirety of our neighbor­hood and exacerbate the division between Hancock and our eastside neighbors in Cherrywood, Wilshire Woods, Mueller, and East Austin. We also applaud TxDOT’s openness to reconnecting downtown with a cap and stitch plan and adding pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

However, with only two “stitches” between US 290 East and MLK Blvd, and no definite plans for any “caps” in this 3.5-mile stretch, north central neighborhoods like ours will disproportionately bear the considerable negative outcomes of an expansion of I-35. It is already exceedingly difficult and dangerous for us to travel east to Cherrywood or Mueller on foot or by bicycle. We can only imagine the additional challenges posed by a 20-lane thoroughfare, including up to 4-lane frontage roads, no matter the particular design. What is more, the overwhelming majority of up to 147 displacements and 32 acres of right-of-way required for Alternatives 2 and 3 are located in north central neighborhoods, including Hancock.

In 2020, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Bruce Bugg vowed that plans for I-35 in central Austin would be “no wider and no higher.” With its dismissal of community alternatives and the removal of Alternative 1 from study – the only alternative that approached this claim – before the public was able to comment on it, TxDOT has not kept this promise.

Furthermore, TxDOT’s Alternatives 2 and 3 are practically identical, leaving no opportunity for the community to participate in the project in a meaningful way. North central neighborhoods affected by this proposed expansion deserve a direct, open dialogue with TxDOT to develop a reasonable alternative that produces positive impacts for the people living and working along the I-35 corridor, now and in the future.

We therefore join other north central neighborhoods in rejecting TxDOT’s current plans. We would like to engage with TxDOT to identify solutions that balance TxDOT’s mandate to move traffic with our neighborhoods’ needs to breathe clean air, travel safely on foot and by bicycle, and keep our homes and businesses from being demolished to make room for an even larger highway.
We ask TxDOT to heed our concerns and design an I-35 corridor that

  1. truly connects us, instead of dividing us further;
  2. preserves the integrity of our neighborhoods, instead of uprooting businesses and families;
  3. reduces I-35’s footprint, if anything, instead of expanding it further;
  4. works hand in hand with Project Connect, helping reduce traffic and pollution, instead of increasing them further;
  5. serves the needs, health, and safety of all Austinites engaged in all modes of transportation, of this and many future generations, instead of doubling down on the mistakes of the past.

The meeting concluded at 8:49 pm.






HNA Meeting Minutes for July 21, 2021


Video of the meeting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzX8v0CGMuE

Minutes from the July 21, 2021, Hancock Neighborhood Association regular meeting

Submitted by secretary Robyn Ross


President Coan Dillahunty called the meeting to order at 7:06 pm.


Carolyn Palaima moved that we adopt the minutes from the May meeting, and the motion was seconded.


Coan said that the Hancock Golf Course survey was not presented by PARD at the June 22 meeting because other agenda items ran long. This may be discussed at the August 24 meeting [update: It will be discussed at a just-posted special called meeting August 5]. If you want to speak at this meeting, you have to sign up in advance, and speakers are generally heard (via phone) at the beginning of the meeting.


Coan said that the Hancock Recreation Center has been open only for daytime youth programs this summer. At some point in the fall PARD may notify us about reopening for group meetings like ours.


Carolyn Palaima reported that the Parks Committee has submitted the CAPP (Community Activated Parks Projects) info to the Austin Parks Foundation. (CAPP is the mechanism for doing work on public parkland and accessing HNA funds held at APF.) This CAPP relates to maintenance and erosion prevention on the recent trail work.


Coan delivered the treasurer’s report in treasurer Bruce Fairchild’s absence. The beginning balance in our checking account on May 19 was $4757.91. We received $30 in dues and paid $500 for the first two issues of the newsletter, as well as a $3.50 bank fee, putting our ending balance at $4284.41. Our money market account accrued 4 cents of interest to end at $2509.54.


Our first speakers were from the City of Austin Homeless Strategy Division.

-Charles Loosen, the community engagement officer, gave some basics until Dianna Grey joined us after a meeting with the mayor.

-Charles is involved with the HEAL initiative, a pilot program to resolve four high-priority encampments across the city.They are halfway through that effort. Last week the office closed an encampment at Ben White and Menchaca and relocated 15 people to the Southbridge shelter acquired as part of the city’s hotel conversion strategy.

-People in the HEAL initiative have been assigned funding and a case manager and typically get into housing in 60 days.

-Southbridge was a “ProLodge,” a protective lodge for high-risk unsheltered people during the pandemic. Going forward, it will be “bridge shelter,” which provides housing for people between an encampment and more permanent housing.

-This shelter is non-congregant, which is preferred among people experiencing/leaving homelessness because of the privacy and security of having their own room. They can decompress and work with a case manager on next steps. 95% of people at the HEAL sites have accepted the offer of bridge shelter.

-From there they typically go to rapid rehousing, in which the city covers rent and utilities until people get income from benefits, pension or employment.

-Some move into permanent supportive housing (PSH) if they have high needs: a permanent disability or more advanced age that prevents them from working. PSH offers wraparound support with case management, life skills and sometimes medical/nutritional support. Austin lacks sufficient PSH, and the city is converting hotels/motels to PSH as one strategy to increase its supply.


Robyn: How many people in Austin are currently experiencing homelessness?

Charles: “Sheltered” homeless include people living at shelters like the ARCH, Safe Alliance and Southbridge – they are moving toward permanent housing.
“Unsheltered” homeless describes those at public encampments.

-The organization ECHO typically does a point-in-time count, a local census of the homeless population, but did not do that this year due to Covid. Another way to calculate the city’s homeless population is “service-based enumeration,” looking at the people who are included in the city’s homelessness response system because they are receiving services. Another method uses census data, which isn’t available yet.

-This year ECHO used a couple methods to come up with an estimate. Remember, over the course of a year, many more people experience homelessness than at a single point in time. People with “episodic” homelessness can lean on their support networks or access safety-net programs. “Chronic” homelessness tends to describe more visible homelessness.

Here’s a link to ECHO’s estimates, including a point-in-time estimate of 2506 people in 2020.

Here’s a link to ECHO’s dashboard of housing types:


Robyn: Can you talk about the impact of Proposition B, which banned public camping?

Charles: APD is moving into its third phase of implementation, which is mainly education and outreach, but in some cases APD will issue citations. If a person is cited or arrested for camping, APD tries to connect them with the Downtown Austin Community Court, which is geared toward their circumstances.

-City staff have narrowed the sites for designated camping to two: one off Manor Road and one in the Convict Hill area. There will be public engagement, including the SpeakUpAustin website and meetings, about this. The goal is to give people a place that has resources (nearby bus stop, restroom facilities), not just open land.


Robyn: Can you talk about the Summit that happened this spring?

Charles: This event yielded a goal of housing 3,000 people above and beyond our current rates of housing people, in the next three years. The goal is to achieve equilibrium – housing the same number of people who become homeless at any time – and then move toward functional zero, which includes preventing people from ever becoming homeless. It’s an ambitious goal that requires us to build system capacity.


Robyn: What can we do to help?

Charles: If you have a unit you want to rent, possibly through the Section 8 voucher program, contact Housing and Planning at the City of Austin.

-Stay in contact with your council member about solid policies and evidence-based practices that are worthy of public support.

-RE: volunteering, there are many informal advocacy groups on social media; also, groups like Front Steps, Caritas and Family Eldercare use volunteers. In HEAL/bridge shelter, we have heard that people in shelter are interested in social enrichment and integration because they’ve been out of contact with society for a while – this could be a volunteer opportunity.


Dianna Grey, the city’s homeless strategy officer, arrived, and Robyn introduced her and asked why she pursued this job.

Dianna: The ‘moment’ was very compelling for me. Homelessness is a crisis for anyone experiencing it, but in the past 3-5 years, especially after the camping ban was rescinded in 2019, it has become more visible and more of a pain point. But we as a city are well positioned to do something about it.


Robyn: Where are the new resources/money/political will coming from that will make the Summit goals possible?

Dianna: The city was already doing a lot but not articulating it well. The Downtown Austin Alliance and Chamber had already started planning the Summit when I started this job. The goal is to increase by 3,000 (over the next three years) the number of people we house, beyond the 1700-1800 people we rehouse each year already. We need to be serious about equity; African Americans are less than 10% of the local population but 35% of those experiencing homelessness.

-We identified a gap of $300 million we would need over the next 3 years. The City of Austin has committed $100 million and is talking with Travis County about the need to match that. That leaves $100 million to raise in private funds.


Questions from attendees

Linda Guerrero: Is the motel at I-35 and 32nd “bridge housing”? What is its capacity, and are people asked to share rooms? Are social work and medical staff available?

Dianna: That Days Inn was a ProLodge through early June and has been vacant since then. We do generally have operations and case management staff on site. At Southbridge, residents are immediately connected with a case worker whose job is to get them into permanent housing.

-The focus of shelter like this is not just shelter “tonight” but linked services to get them into housing. That Days Inn has about 60 rooms, of which a few are designated for offices. We have talked about sharing rooms, but Covid risk levels are a factor. Capacity is generally 50-55 persons.

Linda: Multiple city departments (like Watershed) have a percentage of their budgets going to the houseless crisis. What departments are involved and what % of their budget is targeted to this?

Dianna: There are many departments involved, but there’s not a designated percentage. For example, Austin Resource Recovery has a cleanup contract for abandoned campsites in watershed areas. PARD has outreach workers. Public Works also has a cleanup contract.

Follow-up questions from Linda G (to be answered later):

-Will there be data-tracking -- intake and follow-up -- with people who come into bridge?

-Will there be any potential new COA ordinances that will address the houseless crisis for these people – is there potential change in ordinances for how we deal with this in future?

-How will the city handle disruption of I-35/TxDOT as they go through the NEPA process, and do you have a specific plan crafted for how we address that?

Carolyn Palaima: Is the city taking notes from the Foundation Communities model, which has wraparound services for families, and social workers on site?

Dianna: The City of Austin is probably the biggest funder of Foundation Communities projects and is in on every one of their deals. That model of services on site is permanent supportive housing (PSH). Our partnership with FC will be part of the effort to produce the 1,000+ units we want to build for the 3,000 additional people we’ll house.

Carolyn: Is the focus in Austin on the chronically homeless – the people who don’t necessarily want to move into shelter/housing – and can we expand that conversation (particularly in the media) to include families, elderly, disabled, and people that fell through the cracks, to get public support?

Dianna: Our strategy encompasses both the chronically homeless but also people who recently became homeless and need fewer resources to get back on their feet.

-The idea that people don’t really want housing doesn’t bear out if you are able to offer them the kind of resources they actually need to keep them stable. 95%+ of people engaged in HEAL said Yes, we want to get into shelter and housing.

David Guarino’s questions: What will happen to the federal funds if city doesn’t match them? Will Travis County match them? Will the city funds be reappropriated if it doesn’t raise the match money?

Dianna: It’s up to Council, which has held back the lion’s share of those dollars until they get the county and private commitment. The county has discussed contributing $60-100 million and we’re seeing what happens in upcoming meetings. I hope we’ll make progress with county and other funding and at least see incremental release of those funds.

Councilmember Kathie Tovo: The city has steadily increased its investment in homelessness in the past 5 years, and I’ve led on a lot of these initiatives, but we haven’t always articulated how the city is involved.

-This is one of my and council’s top priorities, and it’s my expectation that we will invest a large amount of our federal dollars in homelessness service and housing. I crafted the legislation that made our participation contingent on the matching funds. We need major private-sector funding for homelessness that we haven’t seen yet in Austin, or we’ll have to revise our goals.

Question: How does Community First! fit in?

Dianna: Their first phase housed 200-250 people, and their second will have a similar number, and they have a waitlist. It’s permanent housing, so it’s not available to us for shelter.

-CF wants to build housing for 1400 more over the next 10 years. For our 3-year timeline, many people who could be housed with subsidies could move there; our work will continue after the 3 years, and their bold goal of 1400 will be part of the plan. It’s part of the portfolio, but it’s not a fit for all people, or the whole solution.

Question: What is the process of fundraising from the private sector?

Dianna: The Summit leadership group is tasked with the private fundraising. The chair is Lynn Meredith, and the group is in conversations with large foundations and individuals.


The next presenter was Lonny Stern, manager of business and community partnerships for the Austin Transit Partnership. He began by explaining that transit is a solution to a “geometry problem” – it’s getting hard to move increasing numbers of people in Austin through the same amount of space. That challenge is not all-or-nothing, though; if you bike, take the bus or carpool once a week you’re still making a big difference.  

Project Connect is a transit plan that includes light rail, an expansion of regional rail, a downtown transit tunnel, more MetroRapid bus routes, more stations, additional Metro Express bus service from the suburbs, park-and-rides, converting everything to electric including Metro Bike, and an on-demand circulator service (“like Lyft, but $1.25 door to door within a zone”). In November, Austin voters approved an initial investment in Project Connect. The longer-range plan (represented as dotted lines on the map) is not funded. One long-term plan is the Gold Line through our neighborhood, which will start as a bus and may convert to rail in the future.

Orange Line: a rail line that is basically on the path of the 801 MetroRapid from Tech Ridge to Southpark Meadows down Lamar. The initial investment is between the 183/Lamar transit center and Stassney. Goes through a tunnel in downtown and under the river.

Blue Line: a rail line that is “interlined” (same as the Orange) from its north end to Republic Square, goes underground through downtown, crosses the river on a bridge, and goes to the airport.

These two lines will run every 10 minutes but, because they are interlined, a train will come every 5 minutes.

Regional rail: the Red Line will change from 30-minute or 1-hour intervals to 15- and 30-minute intervals. Stations will be added to better serve Q2 Stadium, the Domain and the park-and-ride.

The Green Line is planned from downtown east to Colony Park and maybe eventually Elgin.

MetroRapid buses have higher capacity and run at 10- to 15-minute intervals, more frequently than blue buses. Several new lines are in the works; Gold Line public meetings will be held later this year. The Gold Line will go from the Highland station down Airport Blvd. to Clarkson, Hancock Center (likely stopping where the 10 does now), St. David’s, UT East, Dell Medical School, Capitol East, Trinity/8th, and Convention Center, Republic Square.

Timeline: Now is the very important preliminary phase for the Orange and Blue Lines. This summer, we are locking down station locations; whether the lines go above or below ground in some areas, and what right-of-way (ROW) we need. There are public meetings coming up:

-You can provide comments online (same link) until the end of August.

-After that we still have to decide how things look: trees, station amenities, sidewalk, bike lines, etc. We start building in 2025 and it will take 5 years.

-MetroRapid bus timelines are much faster. By 2024 we should have the Gold Line MetroRapid bus.

-There are also working groups that focus on specific sections of one line, and you can genuinely influence the thinking of the design teams. To learn more, click the blue button under “We need your input!” https://capmetro.org/get-involved


Robyn: People’s first question is how the streets around Hancock will change.

Lonny: Right now there are 15-minute buses on 38th, Duval and Red River, and a 30-minute bus on 45th.

-The short-term changes will be MetroRapid stations on Red River, Airport and maybe 45th. These stations will probably look different than the existing stations because of upgrades.

-If there are places you think there should be station between UT and Hancock Center, you should come to the Gold Line meetings later this year and request them.

-If/when we start planning rail, there will be many public meetings to discuss topics including right-of-way impacts. At this point in the process it’s very hard to answer questions about how many travel lanes a potential train would take, or impacts on ROW.


Robyn: How are transit plans being shaped by Covid-related changes like remote work?

Lonny: We did see large drops in ridership, but our highest-ridership routes actually had increased demand. The main impact we saw was reduced rush-hour traffic, which helps transit with reliability. But keep in mind that not everyone can work from home, and Austin continues to grow, which increases demand.

Robyn: Can you talk about equity – both explaining eTODs and whether Project Connect is mainly about getting people into and out of downtown, as opposed to accommodating people in low-income parts of town?

Lonny: Transportation is a network, and if downtown is congested it can have a cascade effect that influences traffic all around the city.

-TODs are transit oriented developments, or self-contained “communities” – with most things you need within walk, bike or bus distance.

-Equitable (the e in eTOD) = making sure it’s not a developer land grab, since presumably the station areas will become more valuable. Every entity involved in Project Connect has an interest in making sure people from all walks of life can afford to live in Austin. We don’t want the addition of stations to price out people or businesses.

-Yannis Banks, Lonny’s colleague: When people are displaced from more central areas, sometimes they move outside Capital Metro’s service area, and we are not legally able to bring service out there. But we’re increasing frequency of service where we can and looking at adding circulators where we can’t have a bus. The Community Advisory Committee is the group managing the money we got for anti-displacement, or efforts to prevent people and businesses being priced out because we add this infrastructure. Their meetings are open to the public.



Linda Guerrero: Will we be able to use reduced fares (for the elderly, special needs, low-income folks) on MetroRapid?

Lonny: Yes, MetroRapid costs the same as Metro Buses: $1.25 one-way, $2.50 for a day pass. Cap Metro also offers the reduced-fair ID program for seniors, Medicare card holders, people with disabilities and active military, and you get these by going to the store at 9th/Lavaca. https://capmetro.org/rfid
I just want to express my hope that this isn’t a bait-and-switch situation, where you say we’re trying MetroRapid but your intention is really to put in transit, and then we get into issues of eminent domain and encroachment on the golf course.

Lonny: I register that. We really want people to participate in our meetings so all comments can become part of the official record.



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