June 18, 2024

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Coronavirus: Austin Passes ‘Anti-Eviction’ Ordinance

This article originally appeared on the Austin Patch

AUSTIN, TX — Austin City Council on Thursday passed an emergency ordinance allowing a 60-day grace period on rental payments for beleaguered tenants coping with effects of the new coronvirus pandemic.

The measure prevents eviction to residents who are unable to pay their April and May rents as a result of work stoppages resulting from the spread of respiratory illness now known as COVID-19 that has temporarily closed scores of business across Travis County.

Council also took action to extend loans to small businesses and nonprofits negatively impacted by the halt in commerce resulting from the pandemic. On another front, council directed city staff to help lessen the impact of utility bills as residents work from home or left without employment.

Mass closures of businesses — and resulting employment stoppages for workers — have left an untold number of people struggling to make ends meet while forced to stay indoors to effect physical distancing to mitigate potential spread of illness. The virus causing respiratory illness is transmitted via respiratory droplets emitted from infected people.

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The measure prevents landlords from evicting tenants sheltering in place per previous orders implemented by Austin City Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. As such, city officials explained in a press advisory that the action is meant “…to protect public health, by ensuring that people are not displaced from their homes during a time where the public is being asked to stay in their homes.”

The ordinance was posted as an emergency item in order to protect renters and small businesses before April 1st rent is due, city officials explained. Residents should still pay their April rent if they’r able, officials added, but for those who have lost income and cannot afford rent, the ordinance can provide critical protections during this crisis.

Austin City Council members lauded the ordinance passage of the so-called “Anti-Eviction Ordinance,” including Greg Casar who was the measure’s sponsor. “No one should be kicked out of their home or business during a pandemic,” the councilman said in a prepared statement. “During the pandemic, a lot of things have been stopped in their tracks: but, for working families, the bills have not stopped. So, we’re stepping in.”

Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza echoed the sentiments while noting the prevalence of people who rent across Austin: “In a city that’s more than 50 percent renters, we have to take this action now to relieve uncertainty and provide stability for our community,” she said. “We are taking emergency action to give people the relief they need. No one should lose their home during this pandemic.”

Added council member Kathie Tovo: “I’m proud to represent a majority-renter district that includes all types of households, from college students to working families, and is home to many small businesses,”she said. “During these uncertain times, housing security is paramount, and these actions will protect renters from eviction. I appreciate council member Casar’s leadership on this item, and I remain a steadfast advocate for our city’s renters.”

The 60-day grace period begins after rent is officially due before eviction proceedings are implemented, officials explained in an ordinance primer. Officials explained the ordinance was passed after to strengthen previous actions by area justices of the peace that effected delays in evictions.

“The critical actions of local Justices of the Peace recently delayed eviction hearings to after May 8th, meaning no evictions can be finalized until that time,” proponents of the measure explained. “Yet, property owners can still begin eviction proceedings against their tenants under that order (including delivering a ‘notice to vacate’ to tenants, which usually asks tenants to leave their home in 24 hours), and the JP orders may not alleviate issues for those who cannot pay May 1st rent.”

Officials noted the ordinance could be extended if needed: “The ordinance currently gives this protection for those struggling to pay April 1st or May 1st rent, and the council can later choose to extend the ordinance to future months as necessary.”

In another safeguard passed on Thursday, city council members approved a resolution directing city staff to identify and evaluate options for reducing the impact of utility bills for customers asked to work from home or stay home to help reduce the spread of illness. The city previously directed utilities not to cut service off to residents grappling with the corrosive economic effects of the pandemic.

On another front, city council also extended help for businesses struggling amid the pandemic. To that end, the council took the initial steps to create a program offering capital loans of up to $35,000 for small businesses and nonprofits suffering COVID-19-caused economic damage.

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