Austin Renters Action is devoted to securing rent relief for people forced out of work during the coronavirus pandemic.
We must address the pandemic as a community. We can bear the burden as a community. Therefore, we are calling on rent to be forgiven during the pandemic.
Read the explanation about rent relief below, then sign our petition to the Austin City Council and Governor Greg Abbott.
We need rent relief
The coronavirus pandemic has created economic crisis.
Most of the people in Austin are renters. The median household income of the average renter ($41,979) is less than half the median household income of the average homeowner ($89.265).
As the coronavirus spreads across the globe, governments are closing nonessential businesses to help achieve the social distancing necessary to flatten the curve of infections to limit the spread of infection. But the business closures are also creating an unprecedented unemployment. Nearly 3.3 million U.S. workers applied for unemployment benefits during the week of March 16, which is 5-times greater than the next largest increase in unemployment claims ever in U.S. history. Another 6.65 million workers applied for unemployment the next week, vastly dwarfing any other period in history.
Most renters in Austin are just 1-2 missed paychecks away from not being able to pay their rent. Although the City has created a grace period by requiring landlords to give 60 days forewarning before filing an eviction lawsuit (at least for any eviction filed before May 8), renters who are unemployed will continue to fall behind on their rent during that time, and face eviction once the public health crisis has ended.
Austin renters need rent relief now.
We demand immediate emergency relief from the City of Austin.
Austin, as a home rule city, has vast power to enact ordinances to protect our neighbors.
The Texas Constitution gives home rule cities like Austin “the full power of self-government.” Tex. Const. Article XI, Section 5(a). As a consequence, home rule cities “look to the Legislature not for grants of power, but only for limitations on their power.” BCCA Appeal Grp., Inc. v. City of Houston, 496 S.W.3d 1, 25 (Tex. 2016).
A. Limiting Evictions to "Just Cause":
Most leases permit your landlord to eviction you for any of a long list of reasons, and to refuse to renew your lease when it expires.
The City should pass an ordinance giving renters the right to renew their leases if they choose, and preventing landlords from evicting renters without "just cause." The ordinance should make it clear that failing to pay rent during a declared state of emergency is not just cause to evict.
B. Outlawing landlord blackballing renters
Cities like Austin are given authority by the federal Fair Housing Act to pass anti-discrimination ordinances for housing. Austin has already used that authority to prohibit landlords from discriminating against renters because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, age, marital status, student status, creed, or source of income (supplementing the classes of people already protected by the Fair Housing Act).
The City should expand this ordinance to prohibit landlords from discriminating against renters affected by the state of emergency (for instance, because a landlord has reported past-due rent to a credit bureau).
C. Implementing Rent Control:
Finally, in a state of emergency, the City has the authority to implement rent control, which could stop landlords from rapidly increasing rents during the state of disaster (for instance, in a misguided attempt to recoup lost rent from during the disaster).
Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared a local state of emergency within the City of Austin (pursuant to Government Code 418) on March 6, 2020, and the full Council ratified the Mayor's declaration on March 12, 2020. Governor Abbott declared on March 13, 2020 that all Texas counties were in a state of disaster as a result of coronavirus and COVID-19 (pursuant to Government Code 418). Therefore, the City has authority to implement rent control.
We demand rent be forgiven during the state of emergency, and demand broad reform for renters
Housing is a human right. Our economy and our communities should not be structured so that working class people suffer the brunt of the harm inflicted by pandemics, recessions, or the other emergencies we will inevitably face in the future.
We call on our state and federal leaders to implement rent amnesty during the coronoavirus pandemic, no less robust than the mortgage deferments and other relief being offered to homeowners.
We also call on our state and federal leaders to expand public investment in unemployment assistance, health care, and education. When the pandemic is over, we call on you to invest in fair and good paying jobs. It is your responsibility to ensure all members of our community weather this crisis.
Austin renters deserve relief. Tell our leaders the time is now.
Making landlords whole after the crisis has ended.
It is generally unwise to inflict economic harm on a major sector of the economy; the resulting dislocation tends to contribute to economic recession.
Our leaders should examine means to reimburse landlords for the rent forgiven during the state of disaster, but the weight of that effort should not be born primarily by renters.