Austin economic relief efforts underway for renters, workers and small businesses following series of City Council approvals

Half of the Austin City Council called in remotely for their March 26 meeting, their first since strict social distancing measures went into effect. (Courtesy ATXN)
Half of the Austin City Council called in remotely for their March 26 meeting, their first since strict social distancing measures went into effect. (Courtesy ATXN)

Half of the Austin City Council called in remotely for their March 26 meeting, their first since strict social distancing measures went into effect. (Courtesy ATXN)

Renters impacted by the coronavirus will have extra time to pay rent before eviction proceedings, small businesses can receive tens of thousands in disaster loan dollars from the city and officials are crafting local programs to bring further relief to workers, business owners and caretakers following a set of March 26 votes from Austin City Council.

The March 26 meeting was the first for City Council since strict social distancing measures went into effect to combat the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, a global pandemic that has placed much of the world, including Austin, on hold.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and three other council members sat in City Hall’s council chambers, while the other six council members and City Attorney Anne Morgan called in by video.

The meeting focused on three relief items aimed at helping renters, workers and small businesses who have seen wages and financial stability deteriorate as the virus has taken hold of the local economy and community life.

Renter assistance

With a unanimous vote, Austin City Council passed a new law, led by District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, requiring landlords to give renters a 60-day “grace period” to pay due rent before eviction proceedings can begin.

Earlier in the month, municipal court officials suspended all eviction hearings until May 8 in response to the growing financial hardship experienced by residents from the coronavirus. However, even with eviction hearings suspended, landlords could still begin eviction proceedings against a tenant, such as issuing a “notice to vacate.”

Under the new law passed March 26 by City Council, landlords must first issue a proposal for eviction. After the proposal notice is issued to a tenant, the tenant has, by law, 60 days to pay rent before the landlord can move forward with any eviction proceeding. The law is effective through the 61st day after May 9.

“No one should lose their home during a pandemic,” Casar said. “It’s wrong and it’s bad for public health.”

Tenants calling in to speak on the item said they appreciated the move by City Council but said it was not enough. Several tenants said they would not be able to handle rent debt and that the city or other forms of government needed to begin considering rent relief.

Adam Gates, a local landlord, objected to the new law and said the city could not ask landlords to absorb a rent subsidy. Such a subsidy, he said, should be shouldered by the city, state or federal government.

Casar said this law could not and should not be the only assistance coming for renters. He said the economic harm caused by the virus requires massive relief from the government and that this law will buy City Council and state and federal government time to craft those packages.

Sweeping direction the help small business, workers

What began as a resolution to help small businesses and laborers who experienced significant economic loss from the March 6 cancellation of South by Southwest—the most lucrative 10 days of the year for many businesses and workers—evolved in recent weeks. City Council ultimately passed a wide-ranging direction for city staff to begin drafting assistance programs for those across the local economy who have been hurt by the virus and subsequent mitigation measures.

The resolution, led by District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan but crafted by most of the dais, does not in itself create any programs. Rather, it gives city staff ranging authority to begin developing economic relief programs through a variety of means.

Staff will begin contemplating local loan programs for workers and small businesses as well as discussing how to bring relief to caretakers and provide child care for essential employees whose children are not going to school because of the virus. City staff has the ability to rethink how the city spends tens of millions of dollars in hotel tax revenue and potentially suspend corporate tax breaks worth millions.

Flannigan said the resolution was purposely drafted with broad language to give city staff the flexibility they needed.

“We are 100% committed to our folks in Austin,” Flannigan said. “We are all suffering through this together, and we are going to get through it together.”

City Council also unanimously approved the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, which will offer $35,000 in gap financing loans to small businesses impacted by the coronavirus and applying for economic disaster loans through the federal Small Business Administration. The local program is meant to get money to local small businesses right away as they wait for money from the SBA. Local assistance will come from a $4.5 million fund the city has through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


The Office of Police Oversight released its first comprehensive report detailing its operations though 2019 and 2020 this June. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Office of Police Oversight report finds complaints against Austin police officers went up, but discipline fell in 2020

The new report centers on the office's three main functions, including tracking APD officer discipline, reviewing the city's police policies, and engaging with Austin residents.

Volunteers of Austin Vaccine Angels gathered after becoming fully vaccinated. (Courtesy Jodi Holzband)
Grassroots groups aimed at vaccine outreach look toward the future

For the past five months, grassroots volunteer groups have been working to connect thousands of Central Texans to COVID-19 vaccines.

A 10-week construction project on North Pleasant Valley Road begins June 21. (Courtesy Fotolia)
North Pleasant Valley Road construction project in East Austin begins June 21

The project, funded by a 2018 Bond, will cause some lane closures

Photo of a woman and girl walking the trail with the Austin skyline behind them
Travis County commits to electrify fleet, doubles down on climate goals

Commissioners directed staff this week to develop a plan to fully electrify Travis County's fleet of vehicles, a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions for the county.

The Bloomhouse—an 1,100-square-foot home in the hills of West Austin—was built in the 1970s by University of Texas architecture students for fellow student Dalton Bloom. It was featured in the Austin Weird Homes Tour of 2020. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Weird Homes Tour ends; Z’Tejas to close Arboretum restaurant and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

The downtown Austin tower is 57% leased as of mid-June. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Downtown Austin's Indeed Tower sells to California real estate and development company in $580M deal

The newly-completed 36-story tower sold to Kilroy Realty Corp. for $580 million.

Austin's downtown Palm District is home to several modern and historic landmarks, including the Palm School building now home to Travis County offices. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Residents lay out priorities for new Palm District area plan with project's engagement period underway

Through the planning process, feedback from Austin community members will contribute to the drafting of a Palm District Small Area Plan to be finalized and adopted by city officials next year.

Project Connect's proposed Orange Line will run from Tech Ridge, through downtown Austin and to Slaughter Lane. (Rendering courtesy Project Connect)
Project Connect Orange Line design reveals proposed locations for rail stations in North, South Austin

The latest Orange Line design shows potential elevated rail line over I-35, as well as options for the Drag.

Photo of a weird home
Austin's Weird Homes Tour says goodbye—for now

The tour's founders say they are open to a new local operator taking over the event.

The former hotel off I-35 had most recently been used as a COVID-19 homeless Protection Lodge. (Courtesy City of Austin)
East Cesar Chavez encampment residents move into former South Austin hotel

Through Austin's HEAL initiative, residents of an encampment near East Austin's Terrazas Branch Libarary were relocated to a South Austin shelter before that camp is cleared away.

The regional blood bank appealed for further donations in the wake of the June 12 shooting in downtown Austin. (Courtesy We Are Blood)
We Are Blood appeals for blood donations following weekend shooting in downtown Austin

The Central Texas nonprofit also said its blood supply remains depleted due to decreased donations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo of a man holding robotic equipment
Tesla teams up with Austin Community College for manufacturing training and hiring program

The Tesla START program will hire and train ACC students to work with robotics and other advanced manufacturing equipment.