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Eviction rates are skyrocketing in Travis County, says HHS

Friday, November 18, 2022 by Seth Smalley

Eviction rates have shot up more than 250 percent of the average in the Austin area, according to Travis County Health and Human Services.

“We have been absolutely inundated with crisis applications,” Kirsten Siegfried, HHS chief deputy, told the Travis County Commissioners Court.

Siegfried said it took HHS six months to get through applications received in just the first two weeks.

“We have been barely able to attend to routine applications, so much so that it truly pains me to say this out loud we only finished processing all of those applications received in the first two weeks of March last month.”

Many of the evictions are driven by rising costs, relatively stagnant incomes and the lifting of the eviction moratorium in March, but November has seen an anomalous increase, even since the moratorium was lifted. Rents for one-bedroom apartments in Austin have risen 35 percent since 2019, compared to a mere 8 percent increase in wages.

The number of county households considered “housing cost-burdened” or households which spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities  has increased 40 percent since 2019. In Travis County, 72,000 households are categorized this way.

“Households in this category cannot afford all that they need including transportation, health care, child care, and even food,” Siegfried explained. “A household that is severely housing cost-burdened is not stable; paying that percentage of your income on rent and utilities cannot be sustained.”

Siegfried advocated a different way for HHS to handle rental assistance applications, combining rental assistance with case management.

“Our ask today is that the court approve a way of doing things to make active participation in case management or social work services a condition of being eligible to receive rent or mortgage assistance,” Siegfried said, adding, “clearly our traditional way of providing rent assistance is untenable.”

Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion asked whether the county currently tracks post-eviction outcomes, specifically referring to homelessness. For the time being, the county does not do that, but Siegfried indicated that implementing case management would allow for that going forward.

“Thank you very much for the work and I’m very excited about where you’re going,” Commissioner Ann Howard said. “I would be very supportive of that, but what I don’t want is for us to do it alone.”

Howard suggested HHS collaborate with other nonprofit organizations that are already using benefit dispersal combined with case management. “Could we explore what the rest of the community is doing before we proceed on this?” she asked.

The county’s 2023 budget for rent and mortgage assistance is about $5.1 million. The average amount of assistance that will be provided is estimated to be $2,173, according to HHS.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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