Photo by Gabriel C. Perez/KUT News
Tuesday, August 18, 2020 by Audrey McGlinchy

Applications for rent assistance are opening (again) in Austin: Here’s what you need to know

The city of Austin will begin accepting applications for a second round of rent help for tenants affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Applications open here at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

“The coronavirus endures, the economy struggles (and) renters are increasingly unable to pay their rent as worries mount about being evicted from their homes,” Rosie Truelove, director of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, said at a virtual press conference Monday.

Austin first announced the program last month, saying it was making some changes after receiving an overwhelming response to the first emergency rent assistance program in May. In just three days, the city received 11,000 applications for assistance, but was only able to pay rent for 1,681 households, for a total of $1.26 million.

This time the city will be paying out more than ten times that amount, pulling from a pot of $12.9 million in federal and local money. The city says it hopes to cover 10,000 rent payments for Austin residents.

So who qualifies and how much money can you receive? We’ve answered these questions and more below.

Who qualifies for this rent assistance program?

Applicants must live in Austin, have been financially impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and be on a lease or some sort of contractual relationship for a rental property; this can include extended-stay hotels.

To qualify, renters must earn no more than 80 percent of the median family income, which amounts to $78,100 a year for a four-person household. People are eligible to apply regardless of their immigration status.

There are some restrictions: You cannot apply if you currently benefit from a federal housing subsidy, like a Section 8 voucher, or are a full-time student whose rent is paid by someone else.

I got rent help through the city’s assistance program in May. Can I apply again?

Yes.

How much money is available per tenant? How does rent get paid?

The city says there is no limit and it will pay the full month’s contracted rent for tenants. This differs from the last round of rent assistance, where tenants were responsible for paying about a third of their income toward rent.

Renters can apply for future rent or rent that is now past due, as far back as April. Those eligible to apply can receive one month’s rent, while low-income tenants are eligible for more. Families making very little money – no more than 30 percent of the median family income, which equates to less than $29,300 a year for a family of four – will be eligible to get up to three months of rent paid.

The city pays the landlord directly. Landlords always have the option not to accept the payment; the city said in May “a handful” of landlords turned down the city’s money.

Is it first-come, first-served? How does the city decide who gets funds?

How quickly you sign up will not make you more likely to be picked. If you sign up in August but aren’t chosen in that first lottery, your application will be considered for the next lottery.

The city says applications will remain open until the funds are exhausted or until Jan. 2021. (The federal grants, which make up most of the city’s funds for this program, must be spent by the end of December.)

The city will use a monthly lottery system to choose tenants, and will prioritize the most low-income renters. It’s aiming to pay the rent for 2,000 households per month.

If I’m picked to get rent assistance, when will my landlord get paid?

Once the city’s lottery picks your name, you’ll be screened for eligibility. If you are indeed eligible, it should take about a week for the check to get cut. The city expects to start paying landlords the first week of September.

What if I don’t get picked and I can’t pay my rent?

Local rules protect you from eviction. Evictions in Travis County and Austin are on hold until Oct. 1, but if you’re unable to pay your rent landlords can still charge late fees.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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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.

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