Travis County will shut down its rent relief program amid a spike in demand
After a surge in demand for emergency rental relief over the last two weeks, Travis County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to shut down the county's rent relief program.
County Executive Sheri Fleming told commissioners the county has been waiting for roughly $5 million in an initial round of federal funding for the program. The county has seen a crush of applications since the City of Austin and the state closed their rent relief programs.
Fleming said nearly 600 people applied for the program in the last two weeks alone. As it stands, she said, the program needs at least $4 million to cover the current pool of applicants.
"The number of applications that we have seen ... has created this concern," she said, adding that the program often sees a spike in rent relief requests in December, even before the pandemic. "There's also the added factor that the eviction moratorium, without further action, comes to an end in December."
Eviction moratoriums in Austin and Travis County end Dec. 31.
Under federal guidelines, the county was required to spend 65% of its federal money for rent relief by mid-November. The county made that deadline, then applied for an additional $7.6 million. Fleming said the county has heard "no indication" of if or when that money could be on its way.
Fleming noted the $4 million shortfall is an estimate that could increase, but it could be offset by reserve money in the county's budget.
In light of that funding gap, Commissioner Ann Howard supported a push to close the rent relief program as soon as possible.
"We already have a shortfall. So it seems to me ... I would go ahead and tell the public, ‘We don’t have any more money at this point,’ and work through the cases we have," Howard said. "If we get more money, we open the program back up."
County commissioners agreed, voting unanimously to shut down the program, but that will likely take a week or two.