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  • Writer's pictureTalia Hill

Realtors pledge record donation to village for formerly homeless

The Austin Board of Realtors is making its largest donation ever to combat one of the area's most pressing ongoing issues: homelessness.

The ABOR Foundation on Feb. 3 pledged $1 million to Community First Village, the Northeast Austin community developed by nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes to provide permanent housing to the chronically homelessness.

The foundation said it will give annual installments of $100,000 over the next 10 years. The money will be used "to help develop homes" in the community, along with a "donor recognition park uniting phases one and two of the village," according to the announcement.

“Over the past year, our city leaders and residents have been grappling with how to best help those in our community who are experiencing homelessness,” Romeo Manzanilla, the 2020 president of ABOR, said in a statement. He added that, with Realtors riding a record housing market, "it’s only fitting that our foundation’s contributions go toward one of the most creative and life-changing housing communities in the nation.”

Community First Village is a 51-acre "master-planned" community off Hog Eye Road — a collection of RVs and tiny homes as well as community assets like an outdoor movie theater and blacksmith shop. A first phase is already finished and once a second phase is complete, the community is expected to have room for about 480 people.

In addition to a financial donation, the pledge from ABOR also includes a commitment to provide regular "on-site volunteer opportunities" for Realtors, according to the announcement.

Alan Graham, CEO and founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes and a former commercial real estate developer, said ABOR's pledge "is providing a significant investment into our community and is also helping to alleviate that loss of family for men and women who are coming out of chronic homelessness."

Since its start a few years ago, Community First Village has been aided by many companies and businesspeople, all convinced by Graham's vision to create a place where people who had once lived on the streets could find community and camaraderie — and permanent roofs over their heads.

ABOR's $1 million pledge is the latest effort from the business community to combat the issue of homelessness in the Texas capital.

A fundraising effort dubbed ATX Helps has raised $1,412,000 to alleviate homelessness in Austin, as of Feb. 3. That figure includes a $1 million verbal pledge, according to a spokesperson. The coalition of business and faith-based organizations, which includes the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Austin Alliance, in November announced a plan to raise $14 million to build and run a temporary homeless shelter in downtown Austin.

These efforts come at a time when Austin City Hall is pursuing its own plan to buy and convert hotels into housing for the homeless. The city is still in a 90-day due diligence period before it completes the purchase of its first hotel purchase.

After Austin City Council over the summer loosened rules about camping in public, homelessness quickly became one of the most talked-about issues in the city. The topic of how to help thousands of homeless Austinites, long simmer beneath the surface, quickly captured public attention after tents began popping up under bridges and along roads.

It has also sparked a feud between City Hall and Gov. Greg Abbott, who has framed it as a public safety issue in light of attacks downtown, including a Jan. 31 stabbing near the Austin Police Department headquarters — some media outlets reported that witnesses said the attacker appeared homeless. In a separate, fatal stabbing, at a Freebirds restaurant on Jan. 3, police identified the attacker as homeless.

By Paul Thompson

Austin Business Journal

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