AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council members Greg Casar, Delia Garza, Kathie Tovo and Mayor Steve Adler released a statement on Monday announcing they were working on a plan to expand protections against eviction.
A proposed ordinance expected to pass on Thursday would create a 60-day grace period, after rent is due, to allow renters to come up with the funds to pay rent or set up a payment plan with their landlords before being evicted.
On Wednesday, council members Pio Renteria, Natasha Harper-Madison, Jimmy Flannigan and Ann Kitchen, who is also now a co-sponsor, all told KXAN they plan to support the ordinance.
That brings the total to seven council members and the mayor in support of the ordinance, enough for it to pass. KXAN is waiting to hear back from Leslie Pool, Alison Alter and Paige Ellis.
KXAN also spoke with Jeannie Nelson, the executive director at the Austin Tenants Council, who said they’ve experienced an influx of calls. Hundreds of more calls than usual in the past week and a half. Many callers asking the same question: What is going to happen to me if I can’t pay rent?
“Many of these people that have lost their incomes are folks that work in our service industry, they work in factories, they work in salons and basically they’ve given up their livelihood for our public health and I think we owe it to them to give them this time to get back on their feet,” Nelson said.
That’s why Garza said the council needs to act now.
“All forecasting shows that we are going to see a lot of families harmed financially by this — again everybody’s going to be affected somehow, so we’re really trying to proactively get ready for what is coming,” Garza said.
This ordinance, if passed, will help align the city’s policies with Travis County’s move to delay eviction hearings until after May 8.
The 60-day period begins after rent is officially due, and the ordinance applies only during the ongoing local disaster and only for those who have been impacted by pandemic.
On Thursday, in a statement, the Austin Apartment Association reports, “dialog between impacted residents and property management is already underway in all areas of the region. The Supreme Court of Texas recently issued an order preventing the filing of any eviction cases through April 19.”
Those at the Association said in the statement it supports this order “and has issued forms and guidelines to their members to arrange Payment Plan Agreements and implement Late Fee Waivers with residents who are impacted.”
The Association also said the Supreme Court actions “eliminates the need for a City Council ordinance at this time.”
In the statement, the association’s president Sandy Eckhardt stated, “We know this crisis has hurt many residents financially. Right now, there are many moving parts that both the industry and residents are trying to figure out.” Adding, “The industry has already been taking action and have been putting to work new forms and guidelines. We will continue to encourage renters to start a dialogue with their property managers to ask about payment plans or other considerations to help keep people in their homes.”
AAA said it will continue to remain in communication with Austin City Council and plan to pose questions about the implementation of the ordinance if passed Thursday.
Councilmember Flannigan said he’s heard from local landlords who depend on this income for their livelihood.
“I spoke to many of my constituents, some who are renters who are concerned, and some who are small landlords,” explained Flannigan. “Even my own landlord, who I rent a duplex from, my landlord lives in a duplex around the corner from me, and owns a few duplexes in the neighborhood, and really understanding that not every landlord is a multinational corporation.”
One of the largest apartment management companies in the U.S. said it won’t provide any rent relief. Greystar is asking its residents to pay rent if they can. If you cannot afford it, you’re asked to reach out and set up a payment plan.
J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and other major banks said they’ll waive mortgage payments for 90 days for homeowners in California. Credit unions and other banks are making similar promises. Garza said she wants homeowners to call their banks and ask for help. Haper-Madison made clear she supports the current anti-eviction ordinance but would like to take a closer look at protecting homeowners as well.
Flannigan also said council will vote on a separate resolution that takes a look at reassessing some of the city programs, such as small business programs, and looking at the city’s hotel occupancy tax to figure out how they can use those programs and money to help during this pandemic.
If you’re a renter and have questions, representatives with Austin Tenants Council are working remotely and available to help provide guidance to those in need right now. People can give them a call at 512-474-7006.