Applications open Aug. 19 for direct rental assistance from city of Austin

Downtown Austin can be seen from Lady Bird Lake. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Downtown Austin can be seen from Lady Bird Lake. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Downtown Austin can be seen from Lady Bird Lake. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

The city’s second effort to help struggling Austinites pay rent is set to launch Wednesday, Aug. 19.

The Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants program, or RENT, will dole out $12.9 million to help relieve financial pressure experienced by Austinites who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Officials said the funding for the RENT program, which came mostly from federal CARES Act funding, is set to last at least through January 2021.

As with the first round of the RENT program, Austinites will have to apply and qualify to receive assistance. The city will then choose recipients through a random selection process.

Rosie Truelove, director of the Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, said the city aims to help about 2,000 households per month, a majority of which earn less than 30% of the area’s median income—$20,550 for an individual and $29,300 for a four-person household.

Households at that income level will be eligible to receive up to three months of rent assistance. Households who make between 30% and 80% of the median income will be eligible to earn only one month of rental assistance.

Following the immediate economic downturn caused by the pandemic’s onset in the spring, city officials developed an early version of the program, which spent $1.2 million in city funds to help more than 1,000 vulnerable Austin households pay May’s rent. Limited resources and unforeseen challenges forced the city to turn down more than 10,000 applications.

Truelove said the city has since worked out some of those kinks, including now welcoming applications for people who are long-term tenants at motels or extended stay hotels.

Last month, NHCD Administrator Mandy DeMayo said the city is capping the program at about 2,000 households per month because Austinites are likely to experience significant housing problems through the fall and the city wants to ensure it can continue to help residents stay in their homes through the end of the year.

Austin has a moratorium on evictions in effect through Sept. 30.

Federal CARES act funding has to be spent by Dec. 30, 2020, according to the U.S. Treasury. The city has bolstered the RENT program with local tax dollars and other federal grant dollars to extend the program into January 2021.

Although the RENT program was designed in response to the pandemic, DeMayo said such a program had been an ongoing discussion among city housing officials. She said the program could be here to stay long after the pandemic subsides.

“Emergency rental assistance has ... always been a need,” DeMayo told the City Council Housing and Planning Committee on July 21. “This has kickstarted and laid a foundation for what we think will be an ongoing issue and a need that we can address as a community.”

Applications will open Wednesday, Aug. 19 for the latest round of RENT assistance. Selections for September rent payments will be made by Aug. 26, with the first payment coming a week later.
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.


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