Monday, March 16, 2020 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Travis County evictions put on hold, Austin Energy won’t shut off utilities amid COVID-19 outbreak

Eviction hearings in the Austin area will be put on pause until at least April 1, after Travis County justices of the peace issued an order Friday.

“It’s not in the public’s interest to have people out in public trying to look for housing or if they become homeless have no way to social-distance themselves,” Nick Chu, justice of the peace for Precinct 5, told KUT. “People will then need to decide – ‘I can’t pay rent because I’m an hourly worker, so I have to decide on going into work sick and possibly spreading this virus or not having a home.’ We want to try to ease as much of that calculation as possible during this situation.”

City and county officials said Thursday they were considering ways to help people with housing costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Friday afternoon, three people had tested positive for the disease in Austin.

Writs of possession, which give the county constable a right to forcibly remove someone from their home after they’ve been evicted, will also be stalled for 60 days. An appeal to an eviction ruling heads to county court, which has not yet issued a stall like this one.

The justices have also extended the time someone has to show up for a traffic ticket.

On Thursday, the Texas Office of Court Administration issued new guidelines recommending that lower courts delay or conduct nonessential court proceedings by phone or video.

Austin Energy announced Friday morning it would suspend all shutoffs of utilities due to unpaid bills since some people may lose wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. For most customers, this includes electricity, water, trash collection and recycling.

Austin Energy spokesperson Jennifer Herber said that since more people are likely working from home, energy bills could be higher and more unaffordable.

“People are going to be at home longer than they normally are, so they’re actually going to be using more electricity, more water,” she said. “Your bill might be a little bit higher.”

Those who have trouble paying a utility bill can get on a deferred-payment plan or receive direct financial assistance from the city.

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

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.

Travis County: Travis County is the urban county that includes, notably, Austin.

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