After years of delay, Austin plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist lower- and middle-income tenants facing displacement this year.

The support will come through the city's Tenant Relocation Program, set up years ago by City Council. At the time, officials said they aimed to address the growing trend of renter relocations linked to the surge in new construction and redevelopment that often affect existing spaces available at an affordable level. Action taken last year provided $700,000 to the tenant program, the first city funding received since its creation.

In 2016, city officials passed a measure that established the assistance program and set requirements for warning tenants if their home is lined up for demolition or redevelopment. Council said at the time the focus was needed as those being pushed out cannot easily find comparable living spaces while the local cost of living grows.

"To the extent that low-income tenants displaced by development are eventually able to find affordable units in the city of Austin, the time and cost associated with relocation have increased substantially. These impacts are destabilizing to some of Austin's most vulnerable populations, including low-income families and individuals; single parents and families of school-aged children; and residents over the age of 65, on fixed incomes, or with disabilities," council wrote in the 2016 ordinance.

The tenant program was meant to be funded by the city as well as through fees charged to the developers of larger projects or in rezoning cases that were likely to displace current residents. However, Austin never funded the program, and the city was barred from requiring the developer fees as proposed given state law, said Rosie Truelove, the director of the Austin Housing and Planning Department, in a memo.

Now, the department has set aside $700,000 to help tenants seek out new housing, assist with moving and storage, support rent payments and more. Truelove said the funding was allocated this year given the "urgency" needed to address the city priority moving forward.

Renters facing displacement are eligible if their household income falls below 70% of the regional median family income—$110,300 for a family of four. Mobile park residents are eligible at 80% MFI and below.

Additionally, a budget request from former Council Member Kathie Tovo approved last summer will see the city fund a study to determine how developer fees might be implemented for tenant assistance. The study will be backed by up to $165,000 first budgeted for that work in fiscal year 2019-20.

“As the displacement of Austin residents continues to rise, completing this nexus study to inform the calculation of the developer fund fees is critical,” Tovo said in her budget rider.

The tenant program’s reinforcement follows several recent City Council actions centered around renters' rights.

Earlier in 2022, members voted to close what District 4 Council Member Chito Vela called a “loophole” in the original tenant relocation ordinance that had allowed some relocations to take place without notice. And in the fall, council finalized two policy measures protecting tenants’ right to organize and extending the eviction process timeline.

A resolution from District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes passed at the same time will also set new guidelines for the notification and relocation of renters in mobile home parks specifically.