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City’s RENT 2.0 program ramps up

Friday, September 11, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

After its launch earlier this summer, the second round of the city’s rental assistance program is gaining steam.

The Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants, or RENT, program provides direct rental assistance to residents financially hurt by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first iteration of the RENT program disbursed $1.2 million to almost 1,700 families earlier this year. But officials in the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department believe they’ll be able to help at least that many applicants a month the rest of the year through RENT 2.0.

“The goal throughout the program period is to pay approximately 2,000 rents monthly from September through January 2021,” NHCD’s Nefertitti Jackmon told City Council’s Housing and Planning Committee on Tuesday.

Households in Austin that are financially impacted by the pandemic and earn 80 percent of the median family income are eligible for the program, which sends rent payments directly to landlords. Households making less than 30 percent of the median family income are eligible for up to three months of rental assistance.

The RENT program is primarily funded by federal dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Applications for RENT 2.0 began coming in last month, and roughly 500 applicants were chosen to receive rental assistance in a drawing on Aug. 26.

“We had not planned to announce these because what we hope is that people will just apply as they need assistance,” Jackmon said. “But what we saw is that there was a peak in the number of applicants right before that last randomized drawing.”

So city officials are publicizing the program before the upcoming drawing on Sept. 14.

Jackmon said they’re confident they can approve more applicants, but are still trying to help make sure residents are submitting the right documentation.

“We definitely have the capacity to do more, but we’re still trying to get all the information for the initial applicants that were drawn the first time,” she said.

As of Sept. 3, residents had started 7,877 applications to receive assistance through RENT 2.0. More than 4,400 applications were submitted by Sept. 8, Jackmon said.

Jackmon said applicants on average reported incomes of roughly $28,000 before the pandemic, with expected incomes cut nearly in half since then.

“We really see why this assistance is really important,” Jackmon said. “We want to make sure we eliminate as many barriers as possible for people needing this assistance.”

After the first RENT program, Jackmon said, they wanted to offer more services in addition to direct rental assistance.

There is $400,000 set aside for eviction defense services and $600,000 to cover other fees owed to landlords, according to a city presentation. There’s also $280,000 to help tenants with moving and storage expenses in case they need to leave their homes.

“We do understand that in not every situation a tenant will be prevented from being evicted,” Jackmon said.

Officials are finalizing contracts related to the program’s community outreach efforts and tenant stabilization services. They encouraged Austinites to only apply to the program once because eligible residents will remain in the applicant pool for the next drawing. They plan to stop taking applications in December or when program funds run out.

Council Member Greg Casar said it appears the program’s outreach efforts are reaching residents across the city.

“It seems like really low-income folks and folks of color are hearing about it and applying,” he said. But Casar worries that members of the Latino community may be underrepresented in the applicant pool compared to their share of the city’s population.

“So we will continue to work on that as well,” he said.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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