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Austin will be the first major city in Texas to experiment with donating money to low-income families to keep them housed as the cost of living soars in the capital.
As part of a year-long, $1 million pilot program that authorized a key vote by the Austin City Council on Thursday, the city will send monthly checks for $1,000 to 85 needy households at risk of losing their homes — an attempt to isolate low-income residents from Austin’s increasingly expensive housing. market and prevent more people from becoming homeless.
“We can find people moments before they end up on our streets that are stopping them, turning them away from being there,” Mayor Steve Adler said at a Thursday morning news conference. “Not only would that be wonderful for them, but it would be wise and smart for the taxpayers of the city of Austin, because it will be much cheaper to divert someone from homelessness than to help them find housing once time he is on our streets.”
Eight members of the Austin City Council voted on Thursday to establish the “guaranteed income” pilot program and contract with a California nonprofit to administer it.
Austin joins at least 28 U.S. cities, like Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh, that have tried some form of guaranteed income. Locally, the idea grew out of efforts to rework how the city approaches public safety in the wake of protests against police brutality in 2020.
In Texas, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg have also shown support for the idea, although those cities do not yet have similar programs.
Austin officials are working on exactly how the program will work and which families will receive the money. Qualifying Austinites won’t have restrictions on how they can spend the money – but the idea is that they’ll use it to pay for household expenses like rent, utilities, transportation and groceries.
City officials have raised some possibilities for people eligible for help: residents who have an eviction case filed against them or who are struggling to pay their utility bills, as well as people who are already homeless. .
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, some council members expressed concern about the relative lack of details about the program and questioned whether it was a good idea for Austin to use local tax money to fund the program, rather than letting the federal government or nonprofits take the lead. .
“I believe we need to invest in people and their basic needs, but I’m not sure that’s the right path today,” council member Alison Alter said at Thursday’s meeting before voting against it. the measure.
Brion Oaks, the city’s chief equity officer, told city officials in a memo that the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit think tank, will help measure the impact of the program by examining factors such as participants’ financial stability, stress levels and overall well-being during receipt of funds.
Preliminary findings from a similar pilot program showed promising results. UpTogether, the California-based nonprofit that will run the Austin program, ran a separate guaranteed income program funded by private dollars in Austin and Georgetown that ended in March, the organization told nonprofit in a statement Thursday. This program gave 173 families $1,000 a month for a year, and the nonprofit said participants used the money for expenses such as rent and mortgage payments, childcare , fuel and groceries.
Some were able to increase their savings, more than half of the recipients reduced their debt by 75% and more than a third eliminated their household debt, the nonprofit organization said.
According to Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, the city has more than 3,100 homeless people. A local ban on most evictions during the pandemic has kept the number of eviction cases low compared to other major cities in Texas, but that number has skyrocketed since the ban ended last year.
Guaranteed income can be a way to solve these problems, proponents said.
“It’s about preventing displacement, preventing evictions and ensuring that our families can stay in their homes, that we have that stability,” said council member Vanessa Fuentes.
Disclosure: Steve Adler, former chairman of the Texas Tribune board of directors, financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporations. sponsor companies. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a suit list here.
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