Travis County establishes new emergency rental assistance program for 2021

Photo of a sign that says "Travis County"
Travis County received $10.7 million in federal funds to help residents with emergency rent payments. (Kelli Weldon/Community Impact Newspaper)

Travis County received $10.7 million in federal funds to help residents with emergency rent payments. (Kelli Weldon/Community Impact Newspaper)

Travis County commissioners voted April 13 to establish a new program for emergency rental assistance, funded with $10.7 million from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021.

The program is intended to provide relief to Travis County residents struggling to pay rent as an effect of the coronavirus pandemic as well as low-income residents experiencing housing instability. Applications for aid are set to open April 19 and remain open until Sept. 1 or until funds run out. Online and physical applications will be available, staff said.

“It's designed to assist households most in need,” County Executive Sherry Fleming said.

Fleming said the county will prioritize several groups of applicants: those who have been unemployed for at least 90 days prior to applying, those whose income is at or below 50% of the area median and those who already applied to the county’s previous COVID-19 rental assistance program in 2020 without receiving aid. Around 2,000 applications from the county’s previous program will likely carry over to this one, according to Fleming.

Additionally, the county plans to prioritize residents who live outside of the city of Austin, which has established its own emergency rental assistance program from ERAP funds.

Applicants may receive help with up to 12 months of overdue rent, three months of prospective rent and some limited utility payment assistance. Additional federal funds to help renters are expected to arrive in May via the American Rescue Plan Act. Travis County expects to receive $123.5 million from ARPA in May, some of which may be contributed to the ERAP program.

Most Austin and Travis County renters are currently protected from eviction by local moratoriums that extend through May 1. A federal moratorium extends through June.

“We must keep these eviction protections in place to protect the health and safety of our community while we work to rapidly vaccinate all of Travis County,” County Judge Andy Brown said in a statement when he extended the moratorium. “At the same time, we are working hard to expand access to rental assistance to mitigate the financial burden COVID-19 has placed on renters and landlords.”
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.