County invests in nonprofits and cash assistance to prevent evictions

Thursday, January 27, 2022 by Seth Smalley

On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court approved a series of investment strategies to prevent evictions and ease the potentially difficult transition from the federally funded emergency rental assistance program to other forms rental assistance.

“The key issues today, members of the tribunal, are the strategy for providing eviction assistance…bearing in mind that cash rent assistance is eviction prevention – and then also, how do I transition from the federally funded emergency rental assistance program?” said Sherri Fleming, county director of health and human services.

The conversation took place after the final days of PARE, a well-funded federal program whose end likely heralds a difficult transition for the hundreds of people who relied on aid. Now commissioners are scrambling to find other ways to continue to help and prevent evictions, specifically turning to two other federal sources: the Local Fiscal Recovery Fund and the American Rescue Plan Act.

The Austin Tenants Council and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid are two programs county staff recommend funding (and commissioners approve).

The Austin Tenant Council would continue much of the same work it has already started, such as helping tenants apply for relocation assistance and funding, educating landlords with tenants eligible for assistance, and arbitrating evictions. between landlords and tenants. ATC will receive nearly $300,000 over two years, while Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid will receive $1 million over the same period.

TRLA would be able to administer more attorney representations, admissions and case assessments, as well as help tenants negotiate with landlords.

Kirsten Siegfried, another HHS division director, explained the thought process of staff members behind keeping the income threshold eligible for aid at 250% of the federal poverty income guidelines, or 32,220 $ for a single adult, compared to 150%.

“The vast majority of households we provide assistance to are still at or below 150% of federal poverty income guidelines. So given the low budget impact and the ever-increasing cost of living in Travis County, we recommend sticking to 250%,” Siegfried said.

Although 250% of the federal poverty guidelines is a cutoff well above 150%, this adds a relatively small number of participants to the program, making it inexpensive protection for the county. The ERAP program threshold was more inclusive, in comparison, at 80% of median family income, or $55,400 for a single adult.

Staffers initially presented two options for funding the county’s rental assistance, one option being just one month of candidate payments, the other being two. Each option was unaffordable drawing solely from the general fund.

Commissioners eventually adopted another option, to book three months of aid for those who will need it by using Local Fiscal Recovery Fund dollars to finance what the General Fund cannot, although specific details are yet to be determined. outstanding. They also voted to fund both the Austin Tenants Council and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

“I think three months makes sense… I’m okay with removing it from the LFRF,” County Judge Andy Brown said.

“I will support it, but I want it also to be very clear that this is only for a while. We literally cannot afford to extend it at this level of funding into the indefinite future,” the commissioner said. Brigid Shea.

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is a member of the board of directors of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the nonprofit parent association of the austin monitor.

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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