AUSTIN, TX — City officials on Monday struck a celebratory tone in announcing the successful expenditure of $12.9 million in federally sourced rental relief for residents financially hit by the coronavirus.
The City of Austin and the Housing Authority of the City of Austin announced the milestone related to the Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) Assistance Program, noting all funds were distributed prior to the Dec. 30 deadline. Part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, the federal windfall assisted more than 4,300 Austin families who were financially impacted by COVID-19, according to a city advisory. Austin City Council will vote Wednesday on staff’s recommendation to allocate an additional $3.2 million in assistance to serve participants remaining in the application pipeline, officials noted.
“We did it!" Austin Mayor Steve Adler said with palpable enthusiasm in a prepared statement. "With the help of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin and over a dozen non-profit partners, we gave $12.9 million in rent relief to 4,300 Austin families hurting from the pandemic."
The upshot: “These dollars kept thousands of Austinites safe in their homes during COVID, eased the economic burden on both tenants and landlords, and will be put back into our local economy," Adler explained. "These are the kinds of compassionate, smart choices that make Austin so resilient. We hope to make additional help available to Austinites and call on the state and federal governments for support.”
The City of Austin successfully deployed these dollars through a partnership and Interlocal Agreement with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, providing for a strong partnership between two agencies that have expertise in delivering large-scale, federally funded programming to low-income residents. The local housing authority's expertise in administering rental assistance provided an ideal platform for the City of Austin to effectively deploy a significant amount of CARES Act funding over a short period of time, officials said.
Over the course of the four-month program, families assisted by the RENT program received an average of two to three months of rent — or $2,985 in total rental assistance — with an average monthly rent of $1,130, according to the city advisory. Of the more than four thousand families served by the program, 61.5 percent earned pre-COVID incomes of less than 30 percent of the median family income (MFI) and 39.5 percent were at 31 percent to 80 percent of MFI.
Among those most served were Hispanic households, representing 38 percent of the total served, who continue to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The RENT Program Progress Dashboard provides aggregate data on the distribution of rent assistance by demographic, zip code, occupation type, and median family income (MFI).
“The City is grateful to HACA and our many local non-profit partners, who all helped to connect with our neighbors who were struggling to pay their rent and assisted with expeditiously distributing these much-needed funds,” said Rosie Truelove, Director of the City of Austin Housing and Planning Department. “Because the need continues in our community, we look forward to making additional rental assistance and eviction prevention services available very soon.”
Added Michael Gerber, the president and CEO of the housing authority: “The RENT program helped thousands of local families avoid eviction for non-payment of rent, allowing them to stay in their homes where they could be safe during the pandemic.”
The City of Austin’s Housing and Planning Department partnered with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin to launch the most recent RENT program on Aug. 19, 2020, with a total of $12.9 million in available rental assistance for rents due March 1, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020. The program provided up to six months of rental assistance to eligible families living within the City of Austin Full Purpose Jurisdiction who experienced a COVID-19 related income loss.
The Future of the RENT Program
The continued positive public input and demonstrated need through submitted applications identifies a strong need to continue this program as well as deploy future dollars made available through federal funds related to pandemic relief and recovery, officials said.
To buttress the latter point, city officials offered testimonials from people who were helped:
"Thank you all so much for paying my rent! It was such a big help to me especially since I recently had ER surgery. I know you didn't have to put aside these funds for Austinites, but I really appreciate it!"
Another person wrote in Spanish: "My children and I are very grateful for this substantial help in such difficult times for everyone. May God bless you and your families."
With many Austin families still facing financial hardship as a result of COVID-related income losses, officials said, city staff intend to continue to refine program guidelines. City staff are considering feedback from program recipients, council direction and continued stakeholder feedback. Additionally, city staff is in the process of designing the next iteration of program guidelines based on available funding and dictated by grantor requirements, officials added. Information will be forthcoming as sources of funds are confirmed and received by the City of Austin.
RENT Program Report
A final program report related to the RENT program is under development and is expected to be released to the public in February 2021.
At the onset of the pandemic event, the City of Austin identified early on the need to act swiftly to deploy emergency rental assistance to households impacted by COVID-19. In May 2020, the City of Austin and the Housing Authority of the City of Austin launched a pilot version of the RENT program for one month with approximately $1.5 million in local funds. When combined, the pilot program together with the RENT program (September through December) assisted more than 6,000 families and issued over $14,170,000 in rent payments on behalf of renters. Total RENT assistance provided through both programs represents approximately 13,000 individuals in Austin avoiding eviction and remaining safe in their homes during the pandemic, 1,300 of whom were persons with disabilities and 281 were veterans.
For further information on the RENT program, including complete program results data, visit austintexas.gov/RENT.