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What happens to the live music capital of the world when there’s no live music?

How some Austin musicians are finding housing help with HOME

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Julia Reihs
/
KUTX
Marcia Ball is the vice president of Housing Opportunities for Musicians and Entertainers, or HOME.

Musician Rosie Flores has lived in Austin on and off since the ’80s. She lives in an apartment filled with art and instruments on the top floor of a two-bedroom house. Her home is colorful, eclectic, artsy and it feels like – well, it feels home.

Back in 2019 things were different, Flores had to leave the place she was living because of mold. She was getting sick and she couldn’t sing; it was time to go. She ended up finding a place in the same neighborhood.

“My rent was like three times higher than it was across the street. But I just thought, ‘Well, I've looked at a lot of stuff here in town and this is pretty cheap for what it is. I'm probably not going to find anything like this for this money,’” she says. “So I ended up going forward with it.”

Shortly after, COVID hit.

“I was planning on working,” Flores says. “Then March came and I had to cancel about $10,000 worth of work.”

Flores needed help and she needed it fast. She reached out to an organization called Housing Opportunities for Musicians and Entertainers (HOME) and applied for a $500 grant.

“I was blown away,” she says. “It was almost like having a mom and a dad, you know? It's like – ‘You need some grocery money? You need some help? Here you go. We love you here. You know we're going to help you.’”

Flores is one of many musicians in Austin who has experienced housing insecurity.

“Here's what people don't understand about being a professional musician: You're supporting your family and yourself,” says Marcia Ball, a musician and vice president of Home.

Musicians often don’t have a safety net, she says.

“You might not have any savings. There's no pension. And in some cases, there's not even Social Security because you didn't actually have a payroll job. You never did payroll,” she says. “So you're really flat on your feet.”

That’s where organizations like HOME have stepped in.

“Our mission at Home is to pay living expenses for older musicians in the Austin area who are impacted by age, by lack of opportunity, by illness, and lately by COVID and the shutdown, which was amazingly impactful to our group,” Ball says. “And we pay rent or mortgage or utilities … both in some cases.”

HOME started in 2012 at Ball’s kitchen table and is now a 501(c)(3) that supports 23 musicians. It’s covering living expenses for Flores and some other clients through the end of next year.

“How lucky I am, you know, and how fortunate I was,” Flores says. “[It’s] like somebody almost like taking a warm, fuzzy blanket and covering your shoulders and saying, ‘Here, let me wrap you up in this warm blanket; you're going to be all right.’ You know?”

HOME has helped people who built the Austin music scene find and maintain their homes here in Austin. To learn more about the organization and the work it does, go here.

Listen to the latest episode of Pause/Play by clicking the listen button above. 

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Miles Bloxson is a producer and host for KUT 90.5 and KUTX 98.9.
Elizabeth McQueen is an audio producer and podcast host at KUTX 98.9, Austin’s NPR music station.
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