Austin and Travis County extend eviction bans (again), say more rent help is coming

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KUT 90.5 | By Audrey McGlinchy – Citing a continuing public health crisis that could only worsen if people have to leave their homes, Austin-area officials have extended protections against most evictions through April 1.

“Keeping people inside and housed curbs the spread of the virus,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said via a virtual press conference Thursday. “Ensuring housing stability contributes to job retention and it strengthens local economies.”

These orders, from the county and the city, prohibit landlords from posting a “notice to vacate” on renters’ doors, which is typically the first step in a legal eviction. These orders have been in place since the coronavirus pandemic began and were set to expire next month.

“These policies have saved lives and kept families housed. They’ve given additional time for families to be able to connect with social safety net programs … so that they are able to catch up on rent or to have the time to plan safe moves,” said Shoshana Krieger, program director of BASTA (Building and Strengthening Tenant Action), who was also part of the press conference.

Local officials also announced Thursday they will soon be opening another round of rent assistance for tenants to ensure that landlords are able to make good on their mortgages or financing, although they could not say exactly when this would begin.

The city of Austin will have roughly $29.7 million in rent help available while Travis County will have roughly $10.7 million. The funds are coming from billions in federal rent assistance approved in December as part of another coronavirus relief fund package.

In December, the city stopped taking applications for rent assistance after expending nearly $13 million in rent payments. City Council members on Wednesday approved an additional $3.2 million in rent help for tenants who had applied for but didn’t receive assistance last year.

The local eviction ban in Travis County and Austin does not apply to all renters. The ban extends to residential tenants paying no more than $2,475 a month in rent and is only applicable in cases where a landlord wants to evict a tenant over unpaid rent; landlords can still evict renters for other reasons, such as if they pose a threat of physical harm.

The order also applies to commercial tenants running businesses most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; this includes child care centers, live music venues, bars and restaurants. At the same time, Travis County judges who oversee evictions will continue to hold off on hearing cases where residential landlords are trying to evict a tenant over unpaid rent.

Last week, President Joe Biden extended through March an eviction ban from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But according to various news reports, this federal moratorium is limited and has stopped evictions in just a small percentage of cases in cities like Houston, which does not have local eviction orders.