City Of Austin Will Offer $13 Million More In Rent Help During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Jul 21, 2020

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The City of Austin is preparing a second round of rental assistance for people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, this time from a pot of roughly $13 million in federal and local funds, which it expects to give out over at least five months.

Renters can start applying next month, and the city will use a lottery system to determine who will get funds. To qualify, you need to rent your home and make less than 80% of the median family income, which equates to less than $78,100 a year for a family of four. People are eligible to apply regardless of their immigration status. 

The city does not yet have a date for when people can start applying, but says it hopes to open the application process in early August.

The city will use an additional roughly $4 million to contract with nonprofits to help people already in the eviction process and for outreach for the rent assistance program.

In May, the city and its public housing authority responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with its first-ever emergency rental assistance program, receiving nearly 11,000 applications for help in just three days. The city was only able to make rent payments for 1,681 households, for a total of $1.26 million.

“The demonstrated need, as expected, far outweighs the amount of support that we have to offer right now,” Rosie Truelove, director of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, told council members in May.

This time around, the city expects to pay the rent of 2,000 households per month, and anticipates the funds to last until at least the end of January.

At a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Mandy DeMayo, an administrator with the city’s housing department, said the city has yet to decide if people who received rental assistance from the city in May will be eligible to apply again.

The city says it plans to make changes to the rental assistance program this time around. For starters, people living in “nontraditional” lease situations, such as people living in extended stay hotels, will now be eligible for money.

“We have been in communication with other peer cities across the state of Texas, some of whom have looked at things such as subleases or more informal arrangements such as, ‘I’m renting from my aunt … I may not have documentation or a long-term lease,’” DeMayo said. “We are looking at that right now to determine what would in fact fit within the parameters of the program.”

Low-income renters will also be able to apply for more than one month of rent. Families making very little money – less than 30% of the median family income, which equates to less than $29,300 a year for a family of four – will be eligible to get up to three months of rental assistance.

The city will also be paying full months’ rent, instead of partial, as it did for the first rental assistance program where tenants had to contribute roughly a third of their income. Renters received on average $730 toward their rent. In Austin, a renter can expect to pay about $1,100 a month for a one-bedroom home or apartment.

Low-income housing advocates across the country have warned of a "tsunami" of evictions as federal and local protections expire. Bans on evictions in Travis County and Austin expire July 25, but a spokesperson for the county said that moratorium will be extended this week.

Got a tip? Email Audrey McGlinchy at audrey@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.

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