Travis County seeks aid from city of Austin to disburse rental assistance as federal clock ticks

(Community Impact Newspaper Staff)
(Community Impact Newspaper Staff)

(Community Impact Newspaper Staff)

Travis County commissioners voted this week to seek aid from the city of Austin in disbursing federal rent assistance funds ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline.

At an Aug. 31 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court, county staff described a race to pay out 65% of its total roughly $10.7 million allocation from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 before the end of the month. If that goal is not met, any unspent funds will have to be returned to the federal government.

As of Aug. 31, the county had paid $1.3 million to tenants and landlords whose ability to pay or receive rent had been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, accounting fro 23.74% of its Sept. 30 target goal of $5.7 million. Around $1.18 million more is pending, moving the county close to 44% of the way to its target.

"We've tried to do everything we can to move this program along, to expedite the processing of payments," said Lawrence Lyman, division director of Travis County Health & Human Services.

In an effort to speed up distribution of funds to qualified renters and landlords, Lyman said county staff was increasingly moving toward allowing tenants to self-attest their qualification for the program through written testimony and using data from existing government programs to verify the information provided, thereby creating a less time-consuming and burdensome paperwork process.


"If we look at a list and say, 'You're going to have to [provide] a lengthy list of paperwork,' it's likely they may say, 'Well, I don't have time to do that,'" Lyman said.

Commissioner Brigid Shea recommended that staff identify apartment complexes where 10 or more tenants might be behind on rent in order to issue bulk payments and speed up the delivery of funds—a tactic Lyman said was in progress.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown expressed interest in transferring some $2 million to the city of Austin, which has paid out its own federal rent assistance relatively quickly through the use of a contractor, Brown said. When Travis County originally launched its 2021 ERAP program in April, commissioners asked staff to prioritize county residents outside the city of Austin, but Brown said Aug. 31 that disbursing the money as quickly as possible should now take precedence.

"In my opinion, we've all got the same taxpayers in a large amount," Brown said. "We all know that the federal courts decided that the federal [eviction moratorium] order is not in effect, and so I think we need to do everything that we can to prevent more families from being evicted, and part of that is us making sure that we're getting this out as quickly as possible."

Commissioners did not vote on a specific amount to transfer to the city, but did vote unanimously to direct county staff to work with the county attorney's office to consider the option of working with other entities on distribution of the funds.

Austin City Council signaled during its Sept. 2 meeting its intention to assist in disbursing the county's ERAP funds with a consent motion authorizing City Manager Spencer Cronk to enter into an agreement with the county to help meet the Sept. 30 goal.
By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.



MOST RECENT

 Redistricting is one of the items on the Texas Legislature's third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Senate releases proposed redistricting maps as special session begins

Redistricting is one of the items on the third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18.

Photo of the Travis County sign
Travis County approves fiscal year 2021-22 tax rate

The newly approved rate, paired with higher home appraisal rates, will result in an increase in taxes for many homeowners.

Photo of people attending ACL Fest
City of Austin approves ACL health and safety plan, holds off on final permit

Austin Public Health gave ACL the go-ahead to allow proof of vaccination in lieu of a negative COVID-19 test, but asked organizers to require masking in some areas.

Hundreds of complaints were logged against the Austin Police Department last year related to protests against police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police oversight office challenges APD handling of most 2020 protest complaints

Austin's Office of Police Oversight objected to several aspects of the police department's approach to classifying and investigating protest-related grievances.

Q2 Stadium at night
Mixed-use development Verde Square to bring hotel, office space to site next to Q2 Stadium

Verde Square, a mixed-use development, is expected to break ground on construction by the end of 2022.

Photo of ACL Fest
Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

Austin city staff and officials are pursuing additional protections related to mold issues in rental housing. (Courtesy city of Austin)
City pursuing improvements to handling of Austin renters' mold complaints

New recommendations from a report launched in the wake of Winter Storm Uri detail adjustments Austin could make to its mold response.

Students at O. Henry Middle School in Austin head in for their first day of school Aug. 17. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD's COVID-19 rate lower than nearby districts after first month of school

Austin ISD recorded more cases in the first month of this school year than in all of the 2020-2021 school year. Still, Austin ISD saw a lower percentage of cases in students than surrounding school districts.

Wayback Burgers specializes in cooked-to-order burgers and hand-dipped milkshakes. (Courtesy Wayback Burgers)
Wayback Burgers coming to Leander; fire kills 75 dogs in Georgetown and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Screen shot of Dr. Desmar Walkes speaking
Austin ICUs remain crowded with COVID-19 patients, delaying some critical care

Within the past week, there was a waiting list of patients to be transferred into Austin-area ICUs, Austin Public Health leaders said.

The city of Austin this summer cleared four unregulated homeless encampments and shifted dozens of residents into shelters. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plan to house thousands of Austin's homeless people taking shape, but outlook for local success, project funding still unclear

The strategy's first housing benchmark fell short in June, and updates on how the estimated $515 million needed for housing and services will be spent are overdue.