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City prepares to launch second round of rental assistance in August

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

City Council’s Housing and Planning Committee heard an update Tuesday on the city’s next round of Covid-19 rental assistance, known as the RENT program. The Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department hopes to help even more households and cover a bigger proportion of back rent than in the program’s first go-around.

The $17.7 million commitment comes from Covid-19 relief funds, and nearly $13 million of that will go to direct rental assistance. Another $1.3 million goes to eviction prevention and tenant stabilization services, while another $500,000 goes to targeted community outreach.

Mandy De Mayo, community development administrator for NHCD, said the department will continue to work with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin to serve 12,000 more households in a rental assistance lottery that will be tweaked to be more effective.

“As a result of our pilot program, we took a little bit of a step back and we have created a comprehensive and holistic strategy to keep tenants in their homes,” De Mayo said. “This includes both direct rental assistance, plus eviction prevention and stabilization services.”

First, in RENT 2.0 extremely low-income households (below 30 percent of the median family income) will be eligible for up to three months of assistance. Households earning 30 to 80 percent of the median family income will be eligible for one month’s assistance. Secondly, instead of just paying a portion of the back rent, the program will pay the full contract amount. Finally, the city will partner with a third-party organization to do targeted outreach of communities of color, which are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19.

“Our goal is to help those low-income renters who are the most impacted by Covid-19,” she said. “As a result, we are doing very targeted outreach to communities of color, families with children, veterans, and also persons with disabilities.”

The department’s communications team has developed a strategy for targeting those communities, but it’s depending on a community partner – not yet identified – to carry out most of that outreach. NHCD is putting out requests for applications for that job and anticipates RENT 2.0 will launch in August.

Covid-19 relief funds from the U.S. Treasury only last until the end of the year, so NHCD will budget that $17.7 million over that length of time. “That doesn’t mean the program will end at the end of the calendar year,” De Mayo said. “It means we will be utilizing those funding sources first and then moving on to other funding sources.”

Once the city gets applications from tenants affected by Covid-19, there will be a lottery each month. If the tenant is selected, the city will contact them and ask for more information. If not, the application goes back into the lottery pot until the next drawing.

“We’ll be recalibrating the program as we go along,” De Mayo said. “We are trying to be as flexible and nimble as possible, knowing our City Council has very definite priorities and we want to meet those priorities.”

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