City of Austin expands rent assistance program, allows residents 6 months rent coverage

Fiza Kuzhiyil

Austin residents can now apply for up to six months of rent assistance from the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, expanded from the three months it previously covered. 

The Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenant program provides up to six months of rent repayment for Austin residents experiencing COVID-19-related income loss, said Pilar Sanchez, vice president of Housing and Community Development for Austin Pathways. Eligible applicants are randomly selected weekly through the end of December or until all funds are dispersed, according to the program’s website

“We found that people had larger need than three months as we were processing applications,” Sanchez said. “We recommended to the city of Austin to go ahead and approve up to six months if the rent was still unpaid, and they approved that.”

Sanchez said they have a total of $12.9 million in the budget to give to qualifying families or individuals, and they expect to serve about 4,000 applicants by the end of the year. The program has already distributed $8.2 million to applicants as of Thursday, Sanchez said.

“This is a really terrible time for so many of us, and we’re really glad that the city of Austin asked the Housing Authority to help them with this program,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said students are eligible for the program if they do not have other rent assistance, such as from their parents or through grants.

Business freshman Alex Mitchell said she pays her rent using savings from working part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer, but her income was affected by the pandemic. 

“Since I was unable to safely work my part-time job that I had in my hometown during the school year, I was unable to add anything to my savings for that time period,” Mitchell said. “I missed out on a lot of money … that could’ve helped pay my rent.”

Mitchell said she had not previously heard of the rent assistance program, but will likely apply now. 

Business freshman Demetrius Garza said his parents planned to help pay his rent but were unable to do so after his dad lost his job. Garza said he did not apply for the program because he did not know it existed. 

“Now that I know of this service, I will most likely look into it and apply for it,” Garza said. “I’d also recommend it to my friends who may need it as well.”