AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday, Austin City Council is expected to approve an approximate $1.18 million contract for its guaranteed income pilot program. Under the proposed initiative, 85 qualifying families or individuals facing extreme financial hardship would receive $1,000 a month over a 12-month period.

In a memo from the City of Austin’s Equity Office released Monday, city leaders outlined who might be eligible for the $1,000 monthly funds. During an April roundtable discussion on the proposal, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said its emphasis will be on mitigating Austin’s homelessness crisis by reaching people experiencing pronounced housing insecurity.

Possible criteria for eligible guaranteed income pilot participants could include:

  • Households with an eviction filing against them
  • Those with a history of missing utility bill payments
  • People experiencing homelessness who’ve already been identified for supportive housing

Eviction filing trends in Austin

Eviction filings are top of mind for city leaders focused on housing affordability and Austin’s homelessness crisis. In an update from Austin’s Homeless Strategy Division Tuesday, the next several months will be telling as to just how many people might be at risk of eviction.

From March 19, 2020, through Dec. 21, 2021, Travis County had enacted an eviction moratorium in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, eviction filings were significantly lower than previous monthly averages.

Now, eviction filings are trending upward, with March’s total eviction filings — 1,060 cases — being the highest since February 2020. Collectively, there have been 3,257 eviction notices filed in Austin between January and April this year, per Eviction Lab.

“We know at the beginning of the pandemic, for example, many people lost their jobs, and we had eviction moratoria in place, which are now expiring. And so, for a long time, a lot of the community groups have been kind of watching that and have some concern that we are going to begin to see more evictions,” said Dianna Grey, Austin’s homeless strategy officer, during Tuesday’s discussion.

That explosion some community groups feared has not yet happened at the volume some anticipated, Grey said. However, she noted case backlogs in Travis County’s Justice of the Peace courts could be a contributing factor to that delayed spike.

“We haven’t seen a very dramatic increase in those evictions yet, but the Justice of the Peace courts were really backed up, so we’re going to have to see what happens,” she said.

Curbing Austin’s homelessness population growth

In May 2021, figures from the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) reported there were 3,160 people experiencing homelessness in Austin on a single day. As for people experiencing homelessness who qualify for “supportive housing,” a representative for ECHO said those details will be firmed up once the program is greenlit.

“Once the term ‘supportive housing’ is a little better defined as this process moves forward, we’ll be able to get a better idea of the population the program may be able to serve,” the spokesperson said in an email.

These figures point to a larger issue city leaders said they hope the guaranteed income program can help address. Adler said this program could serve as a less-expensive solution in mitigating homelessness within the city.

Currently, the city is working toward a $500+ million Summit to Address Unsheltered Homelessness, a three-year initiative to provide housing to about 3,000 people lacking shelter. While noting his support for the endeavor, Adler cautioned the extreme costs that come with addressing homelessness after it’s occurred.

With the guaranteed income proposal, he said his hope is that providing people on the brink of housing insecurity supplemental income will prevent them from entering homelessness.

“We know that it is so expensive for our community to deal with folks once they have lost their housing,” he said, adding: “If we can divert people from that, if we can keep people in their homes and give them the opportunity to maybe get a little bit more workforce training or to really pull their family together, I think it’s going to be a great deal for taxpayers.”