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City evaluates rental assistance program, prepares for round two

Friday, July 10, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

Back in May, the city’s Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants program disbursed $1.2 million in emergency rental assistance to 1,680 families across the city. This week, the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, in conjunction with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, revealed more about the people the program actually helped.

Breakdown of rental amounts provided by HACA.

In a July 8 memo, Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Director Rosie Truelove noted that nearly two-thirds of the households earn at or below 30 percent of the median family income. Another 32 percent of the households earn between 31 and 60 percent of MFI. Just 8 percent of the households earn 61 to 80 percent of MFI.

Twenty-two percent of those helped by the program are 25-34 years old. Another 18 percent are ages 35-44. The majority of the households identify as Latinx, and nearly 20 percent identify as African American or Black. Most households reside in southeast or northeast ZIP codes.

“It’s clear that we served over 1,500 people,” Council Member Greg Casar said. “Overwhelmingly, the people served were people of color. Over 75 percent of families reached were families of color. And the city really supported people in areas of town that had been hardest hit by the public health crisis and the economic crisis – areas in north, central, and southeast Austin, especially.”

According to the memo, the analysis will help the department launch an expanded RENT program “in conjunction with community-based partners” in the next few weeks. The lessons learned from the pilot program will help the department better serve the most vulnerable populations in the second round.

“The extended program will serve the community at a scale 10 times greater than the pilot program,” Casar said. “RENT 2.0 will be a nearly $20 million program.”

Casar said the expanded program will provide more rent dollars per family. The pilot covered just a portion of people’s rent, while “this program will, I think, just go ahead and cover the entire rent bill.”

The city’s goal is to have RENT 2.0 up and running by August. That will be a major relief to families that, while shielded from eviction by the city and county governments, still owe back rent to landlords.

“The city and the county have put in place moratoriums on evictions, to stop people from being evicted just because they can’t afford rent,” Casar said. “Only the federal government has the ability to actually cancel rent or mortgages. The federal government hasn’t done that. So, while we’ve put a pause on evictions, many people have accumulated a lot of back rent. And so, the August program will be able to help thousands of families in need cover those months of rent.”

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