With local eviction protections set to lapse June 1, the clock is ticking for Travis County to begin distribution of emergency rent relief funds to tenants with backlogs of unpaid rent due to pandemic-related financial difficulties.

This round of the county’s pandemic emergency rental assistance was established in April with $10.7 million in funding from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021.

While 1,099 applicants have submitted for assistance since the program’s launch, county staff and consulting company Guidehouse also had to process more than 6,000 backlogged applications from a 2020 emergency rental assistance program. Around 3,000 of those applications are still under consideration for assistance, County Executive Sherri Fleming said.

Fleming said staff were reaching out to backlogged applicants to check if they have already received aid from another source, such as the city of Austin’s $25 million program launched this spring, or the Texas Rent Relief Program. Staff will prioritize Travis County applicants who live outside of Austin, were unemployed for the 90 days prior to submitting a request, or earn at or below 50% of the area median income.

“I wouldn’t tell you that all of those 3,000 people will be funded through our program, but just in terms of real numbers, if each and every person was funded somewhere between $7,000-$10,000, we certainly would expend the money that we have available, plus [some],” Fleming said. “We definitely have enough people in the queue today to expend all of the money, assuming they would all meet eligibility.”

County Judge Andy Brown and county commissioners gave Fleming the go-ahead to frontload budgeted contract staffing for the program to expedite the processing of applications. He encouraged staff to prioritize applicants who are five months or more behind on rent and therefore most likely to receive an eviction notice when the county’s eviction ban expires next week.

“We just want to be sure that they receive it in time to where they don’t get afoul of that timeline,” Brown said. “If there’s money out there, and it’s just sort of a process that we’re waiting on, we want to make sure that’s not an impediment to keeping people in their homes.”

Applications for Travis County’s rental assistance program will remain open through Sept. 1 or until funds are exhausted. Both tenants and landlords can request up to 12 months of rental assistance.