Austin Tenants Council is seeing up to 300 calls in one hour as eviction protections start unraveling

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Tenants Council says it is trying to keep up with an increase in calls after federal eviction protections ended, and as local protections enter their final stages.

Executive Director Molly Jensen says the organization can get as many as 300 calls to its counseling line in one hour — and that’s not including its online requests. She says that’s two-to-three times the amount of calls they were getting in April and May.

“To quantify, we’re responding to roughly 450 calls a month, and that is just a small fraction of the folks who have been attempting to contact us,” Jensen said.

She points to the combination of a gradual lifting of local eviction protections and the end of the federal moratorium at the end of August.

Starting in June, Austin-Travis County landlords could file a notice of eviction for tenants facing five or more months of unpaid rent and who had “exhausted all rental assistance remedies,” according to city and county orders.

Starting Sept. 1, landlords could do the same for tenants behind on rent for three months or more.

Jensen says they expect volume to keep increasing, especially once the city and local protections end on Oct. 15.

“There will no longer be a prohibition or restriction on issuing notices to vacate for nonpayment of rent in Austin and Travis County,” Jensen explained.

She estimates about 60,000 people in the Austin metro area could be at risk of eviction.

“I mean, we’ve had a little peek of what may be on the horizon, because folks are beginning to ask questions and landlords are beginning to think that they can proceed. But we haven’t really gotten a full sense of what is to come once these eviction protections are lifted,” she said.

Jensen says they’re trying to expand as quickly as possible by hiring more staff to provide counseling and intake over the phone.

“There was somebody who called last week several times… on the verge of losing their housing and was, you know, frantic,” she recalled. “By the time… I returned the call two days ago, he had already lost his housing.”

They also work with partner groups, like Texas RioGrande Legal Aide. A spokesperson there says the Austin wave hasn’t hit them just yet, but they expect a significant surge after Oct. 15 if current protections aren’t extended.

Rent assistance from Austin and Travis County

Many tenants and landlords are still waiting for rental assistance.

In an update this week, Travis County said it has only distributed 39% of its target of $5.7 million. It hopes to push that number up soon, after finishing processing and auditing nearly $1.5 million.

“There’s a variety of reasons why those payments are still in process, but when you add those to the item number one, then that takes us to 64% of the obligation target,” said Sherri Fleming, Travis County executive, during Tuesday’s meeting.

A City of Austin spokesperson says they’ve distributed nearly $43 million so far in their rent relief program, with about $9 million remaining.

They say nearly $7 million additional dollars will open up in October with the new fiscal year.

The city says it will give that out through December — even after the local eviction moratoriums are set expire.

You can find more information on Austin’s RENT Assistance Program here. You can find more about Travis County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program here.

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