Travis County rethinks its approach to rent assistance and eviction

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Travis County is looking for ways to improve assistance to those threatened with eviction, as the latest delays created by the pandemic are expected to expire in early March.

Eviction Lab, a nonprofit that examines eviction rates across the country, released data last month that shows that before the pandemic, about 200 evictions were filed each week in Austin. These numbers have dropped dramatically as the federal government and county leaders put in place moratoria.

Eviction requests in Travis County, Texas (Austin) have fallen sharply since eviction proceedings were suspended across Texas on March 19, 2020 (courtesy Travis County and Eviction Lab)

When those protections and delays are completely lifted and federal rent assistance dries up, leaders predict there will be a surge in eviction requests – something they are trying to play down.

“At the end of the day, every family we avoid being evicted is a family that does not fit into our homeless count,” said Commissioner Jeff Travillion.

In Travis County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, staff presented a roughly $ 1.6 million plan that would fund two years to expand the county’s agreements with the Austin Tenants Council, volunteer legal services and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

A significant portion of this money would be used to hire experienced lawyers to help tenants navigate the eviction process. Additional funds would go to education, help tenants apply for help, and have additional people for eviction mediation.

The heist – where the money actually comes from.

After lengthy discussions, the commissioners asked staff to return next week to examine financing options side-by-side, including using money from the general fund, the US bailout, or the federal agency for the management of human rights. emergency room.

Rental assistance

Paul Cauduro, director of government relations at the Austin Apartment Association, believes Travis County should focus its efforts on rent assistance, not legal aid, for those facing eviction.

“During this period of imposed delay, rental aid is imperative,” Cauduro said. “We know the rental aid works. ”

The federally funded Travis County Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) portal has been closed. The county still owes residents about $ 2 million in rent assistance that was approved but not paid by the ERAP. About $ 400,000 of this amount, which has been overcommitted by the county, will come from the county budget.

Some of that money was used to help people like Ryan Paulino, but he says it has been a long process and he is still at risk of being deported in March.

“I still have to because all the time on hold,” said Paulino. He had to go through the Travis County Auditor’s office to finally get money for rent after being approved for the ERAP in August. “Now I’m trying to raise money to prevent homelessness when the evictions resume on March 1. ”

Travis County hopes to help people like Paulino move forward, but again, it all comes down to funding.

Kirsten Siegfried, director of the family support division of the health and social services department, explained how expensive it would be to move ERAP to a county-funded program.

At the rate the county has declared to be the fairest, and to support people from February through September, the county expects it to burn the more than $ 4.5 million already set aside for rent and mortgage aid and would need over $ 4.6 million more.

The source of this money should also be discussed in more detail at a future meeting.

Still, the commissioners, and those working to determine how the county will cope with what could be a tsunami of eviction cases, are hoping to find the money before it’s too late.

“Evictions rarely concern someone who rents accommodation beyond their means, evictions usually occur because someone was at an illness or a rose to lose their home,” Justice Nick Chu, Justice of the Peace of constituency 5.

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