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After emergency orders, Austin seeks more money for housing and small businesses

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 by Mose Buchele, KUT

The city of Austin’s Economic Development Department doesn’t know how many residents will lose income because of the bar and restaurant closures and crowd-control rules announced to stop the spread of COVID-19. But with more than 125,000 people working in the service and hospitality industry alone, the number is bound to be high.

On Tuesday, city officials highlighted some resources that might help and said they were looking for additional money for the programs.

Veronica Briseño, director of the department, said those who have trouble staying in their homes as a result of the emergency order should contact the city’s Housing Department, which is offering help such as “resources for homeowners to avoid mortgage foreclosure and assistance for paying rent.”

Business owners hurt by the closures should call 311 to learn about programs like business coaching, emergency-planning resources and a family-business loan program.

Assistant City Manager Chris Shorter highlighted more recent city initiatives to stop utility disconnections and evictions, and help with access to food and health care. He urged residents to check out the city’s COVID-19 website for details.

Many of the programs, like rental assistance and family-business loans, existed before the decision to close on-site gatherings at restaurants and bars. The new reality will likely stretch resources for those programs past the breaking point.

Briseño said the Housing Department is looking for more money for rental assistance. Some of that money could come from a federal aid package being cobbled together in Washington.

“We’re looking for all of the help we can get,” Shorter said.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Julia Reihs/KUT News.

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