AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the owners of a local home staging company, Sought + Found, it’s no easy task keeping the lights on in their 11,000 square foot warehouse. Then, the pandemic hit the real estate industry.
“They don’t want to have showings. They don’t want to have people walking through [their homes],” co-founder Jeff Arnold said. “It evaporated. The revenue evaporated.”
Arnold and his business partner Richard Kline said they lost most of their revenue in the spring. Since then, they’ve been working wherever they can — applying for local, state and federal assistance to fill in the gaps.
“Our main objective is to stay at least focused on our payroll. The other stuff we can kind of let go and deal with the repercussions. Whether we get booted out of our warehouse space because we are not keeping up with rent, and what kind of legal ramifications there are with that later on? We’ll just have to deal with that,” Arnold said. “Our objective really is to make sure that we don’t have to let anybody go.”
That was the purpose of the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but Arnold said his company has already burned through those PPP funds they received. They also received a loan from the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan program — money they will eventually have to pay back.
“Small businesses are still just struggling to stay alive.”Jeff Arnold, co-founder of Sought + Found
He then researched the Main Street Lending Program, the latest emergency loan program from the Federal Reserve, but thinks it may be aimed at medium-sized businesses, larger than his.
“It’s one thing to know what sources and resources are out there and available to you. It’s another thing to just go through the loads and loads and loads of paperwork and time, just a time investment really,” he said. “It’s not something that is consistent amongst the programs. So, it turns out, ‘Oh, you need this information. You need that information.’ Then it’s a wait.”
More than 2,500 applicants for City of Austin Small Business Relief grants are currently waiting to hear if they’ve been approved for up to $40,000 in aid. Applications were due at the end of July, but the city has yet to distribute any funds.
“We hear our small businesses; we see our small business community. We take this work very seriously,” said Veronica Briseño, Chief Economic Recovery Officer at the City of Austin.
She said they are parsing through the applications as quickly as they can, with the goal of distributing funds in the next two weeks.
“In time for small businesses to meet their September needs,” she noted.
According to city data, 2,047 applicants for the Small Business Relief Grant also received other types of recover funding — that’s nearly 82%.
The applicant data also shows 20% of these businesses are still completely closed. 69% of them are operating at partial capacity.
42% of the applicants have been in business for less than 5 years.
- To see the city data on this grant program, click here.
Briseño also told KXAN they planned to launch a new program in the next month, aimed at giving commercial rental assistance.
Arnold said he’d be interested in applying, but worried they wouldn’t qualify. They attempted to apply for the Austin Small Business Relief Grant, but didn’t meet the qualifications since their warehouse sits in an extraterritorial jurisdiction — an unincorporated piece of land within 5 miles of Austin’s full purpose city limit.
They did apply for a grant through a similar program targeted at Travis County residents called “Travis County Thrive” through Business & Community Lenders of Texas. According to a spokesperson for the county, 1,050 people completed the pre-application process, and they’ve found more 521 of them eligible to move onto the application process.
The county has received 434 completed applications, but will only be able to assist up to 250 businesses.
“Travis County Thrive program was designed to support small businesses outside of the Austin city limits to provide much needed financial assistance to our small business community. We had a dedicated, full-time administrative team that provided technical support to small business owners to answer questions and assist with applications,” BCL of Texas COO Raquel Valdez Sanchez said.
Briseño also encouraged businesses to follow-up with the Economic Development Department at the City of Austin, no matter the situation.
“[They] have really pivoted to working as case managers and trying to help businesses find resources,” she explained. “We are also having conversations with the county regularly, making sure as we develop these programs we are trying to help as many people as possible.”
A few months ago, KXAN Investigator Kevin Clark reported concerns about another City of Austin relief effort, the Economic Injury Bridge Loan Program, being “too exclusive.”
This program, which stopped accepting applications in May, offered assistance to local businesses that had also applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan at the federal level.
Since the local program was set up under the same criteria as other federal programs, Council member Kathie Tovo said she’d heard feedback it wasn’t a good fit for every small business.
Arnold expressed the same frustration to KXAN Investigator Avery Travis, worried there aren’t more long-term solutions being discussed to aid small businesses like his. He and his business partner reached out to several lawmakers at the state and federal level to see what more could be done, but he said the few responses they received weren’t encouraging.
“They’re all fighting back and forth about what’s happening with the current stimulus talks. It’s $3 trillion here, it’s $1 trillion here,” he said. “It’s like, just come up with some solutions — even if it’s piecemeal. Just do something that get’s some money out to help people.”
He went on, “Battles with whether you are blue or red, and then small businesses are still just struggling to stay alive, to keep the lights on, to keep the roof over our head.”