With deadline approaching, Austin expands RENT relief to get millions of funds distributed

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With the December 31 deadline to spend federal relief funds approaching, Austin’s rent relief program is making changes in hopes of getting more vulnerable Austinites assistance to benefit from the remaining eight million dollars this program has left to allocate.

The program has a total of $12.9 million to distribute and housing leaders said Monday that $4.7 million dollars have already been awarded, meaning that there are more than eight million dollars left to be awarded.

Monday Austin’s Housing and Planning Department along with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) announced expanded guidelines to the city’s Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) program and held a virtual press conference. The RENT program helps tenants negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic who have a total household income (either before COVID-19 or presently) of less than 80% of the local Median Family Income (MFI).

A graphic depicting what annual income amount would reflect 80% of Austin’s Median Family Income based on the number of people in a household. Anyone in a household with a Median Family Income at or below 80% is eligible to apply for the RENT assistance program. Data from the City of Austin. (KXAN Graphic Rachel Garza).

Applicants are eligible if they owe rent from the months of March through December 2020 and live within the Austin city limits. Applicants must also have proof of income, proof of income loss during the pandemic, and identification for the head of the household. While the application requests social security information, Austin housing leaders say that question can be skipped if necessary.

With Monday’s updates, the city says effective immediately, the RENT Assistance Program will:

  • Offer up to six months of full contracted rent payment for rent incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020, including rent that is due now, rent that is overdue, and future rent during that time period.
  • Hold drawings at noon every Friday at the end of the year (or until the funds are all spent) to select at random applicants to receive these dollars. The city says regardless of when people apply for this program, they will continue to be given equal chances to be selected for funding.
  • Households will be allowed a one-time certification of eligibility (instead of it happening monthly) which will take place at the time applications are submitted.

The applicants selected during the Friday drawing will then be screened for eligibility, and once they are determined to be eligible, the program contacts the landlord and pays the landlord directly on behalf of the tenant.

Households that have already applied and are eligible do not need to apply again, they are still in the pool of applicants who can be selected for funding through the end of the year.

Housing leaders also noted at the press conference that those who received the city’s RISE funding are still eligible to apply for this RENT funding.

Nefertitti Jackmon, the Housing and Planning Policy Manager for the city, explained that in awarding this funding, the city is prioritizing households earning 30% or less of the city’s Median Family Income as well as communities of color as “data has shown, have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”

She added that more than two-thirds of the households who’ve received funds from this program have been households at 30% MFI or lower. A spokesperson for the city explained that the selection of applicants is random, but their rent assistance requests are filled in order of need with the lowest income residents being served first.

Jackmon said she is confident her department will distribute all the remaining funds by the December 31 deadline.

A chart from the City of Austin showing what income levels (based on household size) are 80% of the city’s Median Family Income and 30% of the city’s Median Family Income.

“We think the program changes will be a benefit to many vulnerable households,” Jackmon said during the press conference.

She explained that previously, the program only provided up to 3 months of rental assistance, but with these new changes the program will offer up to six months of help.

“The money is there, and I just want to encourage people to go through the process and get the assistance,” she emphasized. “People are there willing to help.”

HACA shared that already 1,500 families (which include around 3,000 individuals) have received funds from this program.

The city of Austin advises those looking to apply:

Potential applicants should visit the RENT Application Portal for instructions, a how-to video, frequently asked questions, and application assistance.  For further information visit www.austintexas.gov/RENT, email 
AustinRENT@cvrassociates.com or call the RENT Call Center at 512-488-1397 between  8 a.m. and 6 p.m. CST Monday through Friday. Individuals needing hearing or speech accessibility using TDD or TTY technology may call Texas Relay Services by dialing 7-1-1 for assistance.

There is a total of $12.9 million dollars in funding within Austin’s RENT Assistance Program. Housing leaders said Monday that $4.7 million has already been allocated, meaning that there is around $8 million dollars which still needs to be awarded. (KXAN Graphic/ Rachel Garza).

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