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Austin announces $17M for emergency COVID-19 rent assistance

The rental assistance comes as Travis County's eviction prohibition order expires July 25.

AUSTIN, Texas — The City of Austin announced on July 21 a $17 million rental assistance program for residents impacted by 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. The City was able to help 1,681 households, according to Mandy DeMayo, community development administrator for Neighborhood & Community Development.

The City is calling the new July round of funding "RENT 2.0." DeMayo said RENT 2.0 application process is planned to be launched in August. 

With this increase in funding, DeMayo said they expect to help around 2,000 households each month. 

RELATED: 'The stakes couldn’t be higher for the nation's renters' | How COVID-19 continues to impact renters

Here is a breakdown of the largest portions of how $17 million will be used:

  • $13 million will be allocated for rental assistance
  • Over $1.3 million will be allocated for eviction prevention and tenant stabilization services
  • $500,000 will be allocated for community outreach

Generally, eligibility will require that recipients:

  • 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.).

DeMayo 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 less households will be able to get up to three months of their rent covered through the program, according to DeMayo. Households that make 30% to 80% of Austin's MFI will be eligible to get just one month’s rent paid through the program, DeMayo said.

Another difference between RENT 1.0 and RENT 2.0 is that each payment will cover the full amount of people’s rent as stated in their leases or contracts as opposed to only part of it, according to DeMayo. 

While you have to be an Austin resident to be eligible, you do not have to be a U.S. Citizen. DeMayo said this is because they want to reach as many people as possible.

In an order issued on July 22 by Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, property owners in the county are prohibited from evicting or issuing notices to vacate until Sept. 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

A violation of this order will result in a fine punishable up to $1,000 and/or 180 days in jail. The Travis County Sheriff's Office and Travis County Fire Marshal's Office will have to enforce the order as well, according to Biscoe and special assistant Sarah Eckhardt.

By July 13, the data shows 87.6% of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment. While that's around 2% less than the month before, the numbers have consistently stayed more than 80%, KVUE reported on July 20. But the slight decrease in July, mixed with the upcoming end date for federal aid, is causing some concern. 

RELATED: 

Minimum wage workers can't afford 2-bedroom rent in any state in US, report shows

Travis County judge extends order to prohibit evictions, notices to vacate due to COVID-19

Kevin Donnelly, the vice president of government affairs for the National Multifamily Housing Council, said he believes financial assistance for renters specifically would help. 

"We think that there needs to be a separate rental assistance program to benefit populations who have never really needed housing assistance previously, but this pandemic has shown that affordability and housing was a challenge pre-pandemic and it’s certainly being exacerbated right now," Donnelly said. 

WATCH: Time is running out for rent protection, raising concerns about future eviction spikes 

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