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Deadline to apply for Austin's coronavirus-related rent assistance is Tuesday

In August, the City announced that $12.9 million in rental assistance would be allocated to households in need through January 2021.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Nov. 2, the City of Austin announced expansions to its Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) assistance program for income-eligible Austin renters who have experienced an income loss related to COVID-19.

In May, the City distributed $1.2 million for the Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) Program, dubbed "RENT 1.0." During RENT 1.0, there were nearly 11,000 applications submitted. In July, the City announced "RENT 2.0," a second round of assistance which launched in August. The City allocated $13 million in funds to households that qualified for assistance.

In August, the City announced a $17.75 million program that would provide $12.9 million in direct rent support. On Nov. 2, the City said $8 million of that $12.9 million still remained. 

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The fund – most of which was sent to Austin by the federal government through the CARES Act – is set to disappear at the end of the year, whether renters take it or not. 

So, the City announced some tweaks to the rental assistance to broaden the number of applicants it could help, effective immediately. Those include:

  • Provide up to six months of full contracted rent payment for rent incurred between March 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020. This includes rent that is due now, rent that is overdue and future rent during this time period.
  • The City will conduct random selection drawings at noon every Friday through the end of the year, or until the funds are expended. All applications, regardless of when they are submitted, will continue to be given equal chance in the selection process.
  • Households will be allowed a one-time certification of eligibility (instead of monthly) at the time applications are submitted.

"What we have found is the number of people who have a need is less than we expected, but the people who do have a need have a larger dollar amount and more months of needs," said Pilar Sanchez, the vice president of the City's Housing Authority.

In July, Mandy DeMayo, the community development administrator for Neighborhood & Community Development, said about two-thirds of the households that received assistance during RENT 1.0 were making 30% of Austin’s median family income (MFI) or less, which is $20,550 a year or less for someone who lives alone or $29,300 or less for a four-person household. For RENT 2.0, 30% MFI or fewer households will be able to get up to three months of their rent covered through the program, according to DeMayo.

The eligibility requirements for applicants will not change:

  • Live in the City of Austin
  • Make 80% or below of the median family income
  • Are currently on a lease (signatory) including either “traditional and non-traditional leases.” 
    • Example: people who live in extended-stay hotels
  • Are not recipients of other rent programs
  • Have documentation showing that COVID-19 has affected them financially (e.g., paystubs, unemployment notice, notice of rent due, etc.).

KVUE spoke with a mother of two who said she applied and got approved for the rental assistance on Nov. 20. Laney Fisher expected to get her rent money for December, but on Dec. 3, Fisher didn't get what she needed so she called the city.

"I get a hold of a lady at the office there and she tells me that the whole process only takes about a month, especially with a landlord that hasn't accepted checks from them," said Fisher. "But with the holidays, they expect it to be Jan.15 before we see any kind of payment towards the landlord." 

To avoid late fees, Fisher said she wanted to go ahead and spend whatever she had left on rent, but she said the city then wouldn't give her any money at all.

"Back in March, my ex-husband lost his job. I became responsible for more bills," said Fisher. "I found myself in November realizing that I was either going to have to make the choice of making sure that my son had the services that he needed or putting a roof over our head."

The city said payment distribution depends on how long it takes for any additional information to be submitted by the tenant and landlord. It also said the RENT Assistance Program pays for tenants' monthly rent expenses only, not late fees. Fisher said she wished the city was clearer about those rules.

"I feel like I'm worse off because I'm kind of left in the dark on what's going to happen, as far as rent-wise. I'm accruing late fees every day," said Fisher. "If it was more up front, how their program worked, I wouldn't have gone ahead and paid for my child services. I would've paid the rent."

Fisher suggests for renters to do their research before applying for the program.

"I am currently behind, I'm now late and we have received a phone call from my landlord every day. There is not an update," said Fisher. "It's just been an immense amount of stress."

"Once an application is submitted, a confirmation number will appear and be sent to the email address on the application. A confirmation number is provided and allows applicants to check their status on the applicant portal to get updates on their submission," said Jorge Ortego, City of Austin senior public information specialist for the Housing and Planning Department.

"Use it as a last resort. Utilize other options first," said Fisher.

Folks with the Austin Apartment Association helped people fill out the rental assistance application on Monday at Menlo at Mueller. Paul Cauduro with the AAA said proving the COVID-related income loss is the most difficult part. 

"Sometimes it can be a complicated process of uploading documents," said Cauduro.

Applications are open until Tuesday, Dec. 8, at noon.

Potential applicants should visit the RENT Application Portal for instructions, a how-to video, frequently asked questions, and application assistance. For more information visit www.austintexas.gov/RENT, email
AustinRENT@cvrassociates.com or call the RENT Call Center at 512-488-1397 between  8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

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