Austin launches updated emergency rental assistance program for 2021

Photo off the Austin skyline from S. Congress Street
The city of Austin has initiated a third round of financial assistance for area renters affected by the coronavirus pandemic. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

The city of Austin has initiated a third round of financial assistance for area renters affected by the coronavirus pandemic. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

The city of Austin opened applications March 15 for a revamped rental assistance program for low-income residents who have been financially impacted by COVID-19. The Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants assistance program, or RENT, will deliver $25 million in direct support to vulnerable renters, enough to fund around 22,000 months of rent, according to staff from the Housing Authority of the City of Austin.

Funded through federal dollars, Austin’s 2021 RENT program has been streamlined compared to previous iterations for a faster and easier application process, city staff said. Under the new program, tenants and landlords can apply for benefits that may last for up to 15 months, including rent owed from previous months. A new partnership with Austin Energy also allows applicants to be considered for utility assistance without a separate application. Related costs, such as internet and garage rental, are also fair game.

“The RENT program really is your best bet for quick help if you live in the city of Austin,” said Michael Gerber, CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, at a March 15 news conference.

To qualify, applicants must have a maximum income of 80% of the area median income and must be able to provide evidence of unemployment or increased financial hardship that began during the pandemic. Applicants who have been unemployed for 90 consecutive days and have 30% or less of the local median income will be prioritized first. Qualified applicants will be entered into a drawing for random selections that will occur each Friday afternoon, beginning with the highest-priority applications.

The city first launched its first coronavirus-era rental assistance program in May. which covered $1.2 million in rent for 1,000 households, funded by the city’s housing trust fund. In August, the city launched a second effort with $12.9 million in federal CARES Act funding, which assisted 4,800 households out of the 9,600 who applied. Individuals and families who have already received rental assistance through the 2020 programs may apply again for months in which rental assistance has not already been received.


Austin and Travis County renters are currently protected by a moratorium on most residential evictions that extends through April 1, in tandem with a federal eviction ban. Local officials have expressed concern about the potential for a tidal wave of elections to occur following the expiration of the moratorium.

“I personally believe, and I think others believe, that more resources [will] need to be brought to bear as well to address the needs of those affected—our homeless neighbors, others who are vulnerable, our seniors, people with disabilities, and so many others,” Gerber said.

Applications for the RENT program will remain open through December or until funds are spent. They can be accessed at www.austintexas.gov/rent or 512-488-1397.
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


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