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Austin Now Has $25 Million In Rent Assistance Available. Here's What You Need To Know.

The downtown Austin skyline as seen from Lady Bird Lake on Jan. 11, 2021.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

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The City of Austin has started accepting applications for a third round of rent help for people affected financially by the pandemic. You can apply here.

“Austinites are still reeling from social injustices, an unprecedented winter storm and a global pandemic,” Rosie Truelove, director of Austin’s Housing and Planning Department, said during a news conference Monday. “Our city is made up of strong and resilient people and we want to ensure that our most vulnerable communities get help to stay housed.”

The city has $25 million in federal funds to dole out from the COVID-19 relief bill passed in December. It intends to use the money to pay roughly 22,000 months of rent. That’s nearly twice what it made available to tenants in the past two rounds of rent assistance.

Last year, low-income renters and nonprofits helping them apply for assistance complained of a burdensome application process, among other issues with the program.

This time around, the city and the local housing authority, which administer the program jointly, have made some changes. Tenants won’t be asked to provide documentation until they’re chosen to receive rent, and the city has sped up the amount of time it gives landlords to reply before issuing a rent check.

If you’re in need of rent help, here’s what you should know:

Who is eligible?

Applicants must live in Austin, have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or have qualified for unemployment benefits. You must also show proof that your living situation is uncertain or you’re facing homelessness.

More specifically, you must live in Austin's full purpose jurisdiction; even if you have an Austin mailing address you may not qualify. To find out if you do, type your address into this map.

To qualify, renters must have made no more than 80% of the median family income in 2020; for a family of four, that equates to $78,100 a year. People are eligible to apply regardless of their immigration status.

I got rent help through the city's program in 2020. Can I apply again?

Yes.

How much money is available per tenant? How does rent get paid?

Renters are eligible for up to 15 months of rent help, which can be used to pay for unpaid rent going back as far as April 2020 or rent that will be due as far forward as December 2021.

The city caps how much monthly rent you can apply for based on the size of your home:

  • 0 Bedroom/Studio: $1,853
  • 1 Bedroom: $2,121
  • 2 Bedrooms: $2,510
  • 3 Bedrooms: $3,234
  • 4 Bedrooms: $3,862
  • 5 Bedrooms: $4,442
  • 6 Bedrooms: $5,021

This time around, tenants can also apply for money to cover other fees included on their lease, such as trash or pet fees.

The city, as it has done in the past, will pay the landlord directly. But unlike in previous rent assistance programs, if a landlord doesn’t respond with 10 days, the city will pay the renter via direct deposit.

How does the city decide who gets funds?

The city will use a number of employment and income factors to prioritize renters. It will group people based on the priorities below and then do a random selection of applications every Friday. Here’s how the city is prioritizing applications:

1. You have qualified for unemployment benefits for at least 90 days in a row and make no more than 30% of the median family income; this equates to $29,300 a year for a household of four people.

2. You have qualified for unemployment benefits for at least 90 days in a row and make between 30% and 50% of the median family income; this equates to $48,800 a year for a four-person household.

3. You have qualified for unemployment benefits for at least 90 days in a row OR you make less than 50% of the median family income OR you have experienced homelessness in the past three years OR you applied for one of the city’s previous rent assistance programs and did not receive money.

The city will consider the remaining applications after those who qualify under these three priorities have been assessed.

If I’m picked to get rent assistance, when will I get the money?

It’s unclear.

In the past, the city said once it reviewed a renter’s documents and determined they were eligible, it could take a week for the landlord to get paid. But the city is more hesitant to put a timeframe on it now.

“There are many factors that determine how quickly tenants can receive payment for their rent, including submission of all required documentation, landlord cooperation and participation, and documentation review and processing,” a city spokesperson said by email.

What if I don't get picked and I can't pay my rent?

Currently, local rules protect tenants from evictions until May 1. But if you’re unable to pay your rent, your landlord can still charge you late fees.

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