Travis County Leads on Housing Reform

by | Oct 11, 2021 | Austin, Policy

As Austin continues to grow dramatically and skyrocketing rent prices have left many residents unable to find safe and stable housing, the Travis County Commissioners Court, led by newly-elected Travis County Judge Andy Brown, has passed multiple innovative policy changes to expand access to affordable housing for working-class families. 

Last week, the court passed a Tenants Bill of Rights Resolution that provides basic protections for residents in over 4,500 housing units owned or managed through the Travis County Strategic Housing Corporation.

“Safe housing is a human right,” said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. “The tenant protections passed by the Court provide a significant step toward empowering and protecting people who live in Strategic Housing Finance Corporation properties. The County must ensure everyone living in Travis County has access to safe, affordable housing. I want to thank BASTA and the tenants at Rosemont for working closely with my office & county staff for the past 3 months to prepare the resolution that Commissioners Court passed.” 

This vote comes after more than 80 families at the Rosemont complex received a termination of lease notice back in July. Through no fault of their own, the renters received an eviction notice after damage from the record-breaking February freeze, including mold, that made the homes unlivable. Those notices were rescinded after the owners were pressured to do so by the Commissioners Court.

This small but significant change to apartment bylaws could serve as a model for city and statewide reforms that extend greater protections to renters. 

“When we started this, we had no idea that our fight would impact all SHFC residents, not just ourselves,” said Bee Dumas, a steering committee member of the tenants’ association Neighbors at Rosemont. 

In a vote last month, Travis County passed one of the most progressive housing resolutions in the country. Travis County commissioners unanimously pledged to invest $110 million in bond funds and other money to try to eradicate homelessness over the next three years. Last Tuesday’s motion was brought forward by Commissioner Margaret Gómez and Ann Howard. 

“This resolution will help thousands end the cycle of homelessness and provide new opportunities to live and thrive. The innovative, community-led effort reflects our values and commitment to making everyone safer,” said Brown on last week’s historic housing resolution.

The money, sourced from a $247 million chunk of the American Rescue Plan Act funds designated for county assistance, will likely be administered via dozens of nonprofits, including $50 million for new developments by Community First! Village and Foundation Communities. 

“We can only do this if the federal dollars allow the use for each project and how that project wants to use the money. So to make sure everything is allowed, we’re still waiting from the Treasury on some questions,” Howard said.

The funds will be used to build affordable housing units, as well as bolster existing strategies to protect people from homelessness, consistent with the Treasury requirements for ARPA use. The resolution also prioritizes meeting the diverse needs of Travis County by focusing on programs to help veterans, survivors of domestic violence, LGBTQIA+ youth, and at-risk elderly access housing.

“City and county officials have come together and set a goal to rehouse 3,000 people over the next three years,” Commissioner Margaret Gómez said.

The Commissioners Court is also expected to consider more innovative policies to expand access to affordable housing for working-class families all across Travis County, like buying abandoned housing developments and bringing them into the Travis County Housing Authority. 

“I am so proud of the progress we continue to make in Travis County. I hope we will keep inspiring leaders across our nation to invest in people and communities so we can help our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Brown.

Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

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