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.


Austin ISD reported its highest number of COVID-19 cases the week of Jan. 4, but that number has decreased for two consecutive weeks, according to the district. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD sees 70% drop in on-campus students over past 2 weeks after district asks families to stay home

The district saw a 11,839-student decline in on-campus learning as AISD families opted for online learning from Jan. 12-22.

City officials are facing growing pressure to address the growing visibility of homelessness in Austin. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Sanctioned homeless camp proposal gains attention from Austin leaders as pressure mounts

Mayor Steve Adler said the urgent need for shelter space and housing could overrule initial objections to sanctioned homeless encampments.

See how COVID-19 continues to impact Travis County. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Despite drop in hospital admissions, Travis County adds 4,039 new COVID-19 cases over past 7 days

Overall, Travis County has reported 65,507 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Construction at Q2 Stadium is on schedule to be completed by late March or early April. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin FC will play at newly named Q2 Stadium starting this summer

Austin FC announced the naming partnership with Austin-based tech company Q2 Holdings Inc. at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 25.

The Contemporary Austin will host a virtual artist talk Feb. 3 with photographers Torbjørn Rødland and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. COURTESY SARAH SCHULTZ/CONTEMPORARY ATX
Austin Film Society presents drive-in Sundance Film Festival screenings, The Contemporary Austin hosts a virtual artist talk and more events in Austin

Austin Film Society is a satellite screen partner for the Sundance Film Festival, which normally takes place at a ski resort in Utah, but is screening films digitally and through partners around the country this year.

Rendering of an apartment complex
Ground breaks on Capitol Quarters, Austin's first car-free multifamily housing development

Developer Weaver Buildings said the project is aimed at urban commuters who are committed to getting around wiithout cars.

Hays County opened its COVID-19 vaccine portal Jan. 22. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Vaccine portal opens in Hays County; read Austin business news and more Central Texas info

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott said he will announce statewide plans to address homelessness that include camping bans. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin weekly roundup: Governor plans statewide camping ban, COVID-19 numbers flatten and more

Questions remain about the legality of the camping ban, which a local group is also hoping to get on the May 2021 ballot.

The Austin Community College District's 28,000-square-foot culinary arts wing is now open at ACC Highland. (Courtesy Austin Community College)
Second phase of ACC Highland campus opens in Central Austin

The campus is home to the Austin Community College District's Culinary Arts Department.

Registration for Williamson County COVID-19 vaccines opened Jan. 19. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)
Register for vaccine in WilCo; 24 restaurants to try in Leander, Cedar Park and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular business and community news from the past week from the Central Texas area.