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 two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


MOST RECENT

A screen image of Sam Biscoe at a meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court
Travis County allocates $7.3 million in coronavirus relief aid to small cities

Commissioners voted to issue $55 per capita to the county's small cities, significantly less than mayors had lobbied for.

There have been a total of 3,501 coronavirus cases in the county and 95 deaths since the pandemic began locally March 13. (Community Impact staff)
Travis County’s first two coronavirus deaths of June bring total to 95

There have been a total of 3,501 coronavirus cases in the county and 95 deaths since the pandemic began locally March 13.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase 3 of his Open Texas plan June 3. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Greg Abbott's June 3 guidelines allow most Texas businesses to operate at 50% capacity

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continues to lift coronavirus-related business restrictions.

Alta Alexander shows the fire damage at her boutique on East 12th Street, Altatudes. (Photo by Jack Flagler, design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)
Altatudes and Kane's Barbershop, 2 black-owned businesses on East 12th Street, look to rebuild after fire

The Austin Fire Department said a fire that started in the early morning of June 1 at Kane’s Barbershop was accidental and caused by an electrical failure.

Legendary baseball player Nolan Ryan has long enjoyed ranching. Now, he and his team are preparing to open a butcher shop in Round Rock to showcase Goodstock, Nolan Ryan Beef and other Texas-made products. (Photo courtesy Nolan Ryan)
Nolan Ryan to open Round Rock butcher shop and 20 other Central Texas business updates to know

Read the latest news on Central Texas businesses from Community Impact Newspaper's latest coverage.

Protesters march toward the Texas Capitol. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin health officials: All who attended weekend demonstrations should get tested for coronavirus

Concerns over the coronavirus pandemic took the passenger seat, but health officials emphasized those health concerns have not subsided.

Barton Springs Pool
Closed since March, Barton Springs Pool to reopen with reservations June 9

After being closed for close to three months, Barton Springs Pool will open with limited hours beginning June 9.

Census reinstates some field operations in Texas following coronavirus delay. (Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)
Census reinstates some field operations in Texas following coronavirus delay

Operations began in Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio beginning May 25.

A graphic outlining aims of Travis County's climate action plan
Travis County approves first ever climate action plan

Travis County commissioners voted June 2 on a collection of short to long terms goals to ward off climate change on the local level.

Protesters march toward the Texas Capitol. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
City Council will seek answers from Austin Police Department over response to the weekend's violent protests

Austin City Council will bring Austin Police Chief Brian Manley in for questioning on June 4 at 3 p.m.

A view of Downtown Austin from Lady Bird Lake (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Experts: Coronavirus has magnified long-held inequities of Austin’s health care system

Black and Hispanic communities outside of nursing homes have suffered the worst from the coronavirus, according to new data from Austin Public Health.

Travis County had an estimated 2,044 active coronavirus cases June 2. (Nicholas Cicale/Community impact Newspaper)
Austin metro COVID-19 hospitalizations at 97 as Travis County cases increase by 73

Travis County had an estimated 2,044 active coronavirus cases June 2.