State leaders are considering selling the Austin State Hospital, a historic facility near Hyde Park, but residents are divided over the future of the site.
One group of neighbors is welcoming new development on the expansive property. Completed in 1861, the Austin State Hospital was the first facility in the state established to care for the mentally ill. But now, Texas lawmakers are considering selling the land and relocating the hospital. Alejandro Puyana is a board member with a group called the Friends of Hyde Park. The neighborhood association recently voted to encourage new development on the property near 41st and Guadalupe streets.
“I think a lot of neighbors in Hyde Park and across the city sort of agree with the fact that the city’s going through a housing crisis, and we need to really take every opportunity we can to add to the housing stock,” Puyana said.
The Friends of Hyde Park’s decision comes after another group, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, voted to preserve the hospital campus. That group wants any future development on the property to be restricted to public use and require the input of local stakeholders.
The facility is primarily a psychiatric hospital, but its campus has also come to serve as a popular recreational space. In the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan, neighbors cemented the importance of the hospital to preserving the area’s character. Today, the Austin State Hospital admits about 4,000 patients a year, serving 38 counties across Central Texas.
Still, Puyana feels the property is not being used to its full potential. The Friends of Hyde Park voted to support responsible new development while preserving or relocating facilities that provide mental healthcare.
“It serves a very vulnerable population, but it doesn’t serve it to its full potential,” Puyana said. “With new development in the ASH site, we could have a state-of-the-art new development built to serve those same people in those same numbers or even more, while still developing other parts of the site for housing, affordable housing, public green space…”
Ultimately, the decision is up to state lawmakers. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission heard public comment on the potential relocation in June. The agency plans to deliver a report to state lawmakers by September.