RENT 3.0 Launched March 15th

Community , Industry ,

On March 15, 2021, The City of Austin’s Housing and Planning Department (HPD) and the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) launched an updated Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) Assistance Program for 2021. The City of Austin received funding from the U.S. Department of the Treasury through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in early 2021. The RENT Assistance Program provides $25 million of direct rent support for income-eligible Austin renters who are financially impacted by COVID-19.

The RENT Application Portal opened Monday, March 15, 2021 and will remain open through December 2021, or until funds are spent.  The RENT program will randomly select applications weekly on Fridays for processing.  If selected and the application qualifies, payment will be issued directly to the landlord who is owed rent payments.

The updated program guidelines have been enhanced to address equity, prioritize vulnerable and low-income populations, and create stronger coordination of tenant stabilization services including connecting approved applicants to Austin Energy for utility assistance.  Renters are not required to be U.S. citizens or legal residents to apply. Renters who received rent support from the 2020 RENT program can apply using the same account; this program can provide funding for the months that have unpaid rent.

To apply, visit the RENT Application Portal.

"Too many families in Austin are struggling to pay their rent because of a job loss, loss of work hours, or another impact from the COVID-19 pandemic," said HACA CEO Michael Gerber. "HACA is again proud to partner with the City's Housing and Planning Department to provide critical help that will keep some of our community's most vulnerable residents safe and in their homes." 

“Families are still feeling the devastating economic impacts of this pandemic and the need for rental assistance continues in our communities,” said Housing and Planning Director Rosie Truelove. “With HACA’s continued partnership, we look forward to making additional rental assistance and eviction prevention services available to families in need.”

Program Enhancements

The RENT Assistance Program can help renters financially impacted by the pandemic pay rent as far back as April 2020 until December 2021. 
Significant policy changes from the federal government include the following:

  • Timing for landlord response has been reduced (which allows payments to be made directly to the renter when landlords are unresponsive);
     
  • More flexibility in allowable forms of documentation;
     
  • Allowing for self-certification;
     
  • Categorical eligibility for households approved to receive benefits from other government assistance programs with the same or lower-income limitations; and
     
  • Eligibility for households receiving federal subsidies.

Significant policy changes in the City of Austin’s RENT program beginning in March 2021:

  • Tenants and landlords can apply;
     
  • Households may be eligible to receive up to 15 months of rent assistance;
     
  • RENT funds can cover fees on the lease agreement, including internet services, utilities included with the rent, and fees for garage use, storage, service animals, and pets; and
     
  • Through collaboration with Austin Energy, the RENT program will provide approved application information to Austin Energy for Austin Energy customers in need of utility assistance. This will eliminate having to separately apply for utility assistance if the RENT program determines the applicant is eligible.
     

Eligibility Requirements:

To apply, applicants must meet the eligibility requirements below:

  • Have an income of no more than 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI);
     
  • One or more members of your household must have either: qualified for unemployment benefits OR provide proof that due to COVID-19 you: have less income, have more costs or bills, or experienced other financial hardship;
     
  • One or more members of your household must demonstrate they: are at risk of experiencing homelessness or their housing situation is uncertain, which may include a past due utility/rent notice or eviction notice OR live in unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions; and
     
  • Live within the City of Austin Full Purpose Jurisdiction boundaries. Applicants can verify using the City of Austin Jurisdictional Boundaries map. The address on the application must be the applicant’s primary residence.
     

Information Needed to Apply:

Applicants will need the following information to successfully complete an application:

  • An email address and phone number;
     
  • The following information for each household member: Full name, date of birth, gender, race, ethnicity, relationship to the head of household, and one of the following if you have one: social security number, alien registration number, individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN);
     
    • There is no requirement for applicants to be a U.S. citizen or legal resident to apply.
       
  • The household's current address and mailing address;
     
  • Each household member's current gross monthly income (before taxes or deductions are taken out) and types of income; 
     
  • The landlord's name, email address, and phone number; and
     
  • A government-issued photo identification for the head of household.

Documents are not required to submit an application.  Applicants will be contacted with information on how to submit documentation if the application is selected for eligibility review; however, it may be helpful to start gathering documents in advance.
 

Applicant Prioritization:

To best serve the needs of the community, applications are placed into four groups:

  • Priority 1: Renters who qualify for unemployment for at least 90 consecutive days before application and have zero or extremely low income (at or less than 30% of the area median income). If an applicant claims this, the applicant will need to submit a document to prove this immediately after submitting the application to be considered as a priority. 
     
  • Priority 2: Renters who qualify for unemployment for at least 90 consecutive days before application and have low income (between 30% and 50% of the area median income). 
     
  • Priority 3:  Renters that meet one of the following criteria: 
     
    • Renters who qualify for unemployment for at least 90 consecutive days before application, or 
    • Low-income renters (at or less than 50% of the area median income), or      
    • Renters who have experienced homelessness in the last 3 years, or
    • Renters who applied for the RENT Assistance program between August 2020 – December 2020 and did not receive rent assistance (this does not include inactive applications and applications that were denied.)  
         
  • Priority 4: All other submitted applications.

Applications are grouped in order of priority points and selected randomly for review. Applications with the highest points will be considered first.  Renters can only receive points from one priority tier. If an applicant qualifies for more than one priority group, the highest tier points for which they qualify will be applied to their application. The RENT program will request documentation to verify the renter is eligible for the priority points.  
 

Previous RENT Program Performance:

The RENT Assistance Program that occurred between August 2020 and December 2020  met the needs of more than 4,000 households and delivered more than $12 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds last year. After launch, staff modified program guidelines, which allowed households to receive more rent assistance for a longer period than what was originally designed. In addition, the Interlocal Agreement with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin allowed the City to move swiftly and effectively. 

In January 2021, with the addition of $3.2 million in Community Development Block Grant-Coronavirus Relief (CDBG-CV) funds and General Funds, staff continued the program through February 2021. The goal was to serve additional households that had submitted applications before the program closed in 2020 but were not able to be served because all funds had been expended in December 2020. These additional funds allowed the City to serve more than 500 additional households.  Summary data is available on the RENT webpage.
 

Local Eviction Order Information:

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Steve Adler issued Order No. 20210128-025 that prohibits landlords from issuing notices to vacate except in certain circumstances, locking out renters, and removing property. This ordinance applies to rent payments due until April 1, 2021. Renters still owe rent during this period and eligible households can apply for help through the RENT program.

For Austin renters making a low income and impacted by  COVID-19, the RENT Application Portal opened Monday, March 15, 2021. Applicants with questions or in need of further information can visit www.austintexas.gov/RENT, view the RENT FAQ’s, 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.

The RENT Assistance Program receives and accepts Video Relay Service (VRS) calls from people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing. The Call Center staff speak Spanish fluently, if you speak Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Burmese, Urdu, or Vietnamese, you will be prompted to select your primary language and leave a voicemail.  Your call will be returned within 24-48 hours with an interpreter on the line.