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City launches revamped version of rental assistance program

Monday, March 15, 2021 by Seth Smalley

Today the Housing and Planning Department, in partnership with the city housing authority, will launch a revamped version of RENT, the Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants Assistance Program.

Nefertitti Jackmon, the city’s housing and policy planning manager, presented to City Council’s Housing and Planning Committee on March 11, giving performance overviews of the older and the updated iterations of the program, RENT 2.0 and RENT 3.0.

“Too many families in Austin are struggling to pay their rent because of a job loss, loss of work hours or another impact from the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Michael Gerber, president and CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin.

The newest iteration of RENT, which opens for applications today, March 15, will provide $25 million in direct support for eligible tenants in Austin.

“We’re happy to announce we received $29 million in funding from the U.S. Treasury Department,” Jackmon said, referring to the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Eligible tenants may apply to the program via an online portal from March through December. Payments will be issued directly to landlords.

The eligibility requirements remain much the same between the two versions, but RENT 3.0 has added racial equity initiatives and additional benefits. In the previous iteration of RENT, households could receive up to six months of full or contracted rent payments, while the new iteration will provide up to 15 months of assistance.

In order to qualify, a household must meet a number of criteria, including making 80 percent or less of the area median family income and experiencing a Covid-19-related income loss.

Between August 2020 and February 2021, a total of $15,437,463 in rent assistance was paid out to over 4,800 households. The median amount of assistance was $1,098.

The ZIP code receiving the majority of assistance was 78741, which amounted to 11.56 percent of the total amount of assistance. It was closely followed by 78753 at 9.56 percent. Breaking down recipients by race, 38.4 percent identified as Latinx, while 28.3 percent and 18.9 percent identified as white and African American, respectively.

“The vast majority of households served – there were over 2,000 households – were just households of one. The vast majority were also female-headed households,” Jackmon said.

Approximately 3,100 households receiving assistance were headed by women, while around 1,680 assisted households were headed by men.

“One of the things we want to do is continue to meet with partners to make sure we are able to provide a program that is responsive to the unique needs of the families and households within Austin. We met with a number of city leaders and community partners, and we were able to tweak the program, improving it with each iteration,” Jackmon said, spotlighting equity goals for the program.

Equity goals for the program include making it easier for tenants to apply, providing the public more demographic data to increase transparency, and prioritizing households that make 30 percent of the area median income.

“We’re targeting three priority populations: households at 30 percent AMI, persons who have been unemployed in the last 90 days, and persons who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness,” Jackmon said.

She also noted the program’s back-rent payment feature, which allows up to 12 months of back payment for tenants who have fallen behind on their rent.

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