Austin becomes first Texas city to experiment with ‘guaranteed income’

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin will be the first major Texas city to experiment with giving low-income families money to house them as the cost of living in the capital skyrockets.

As part of a year-long, $1 million pilot program that approved a key Austin City Council vote on Thursday, the city will send $1,000 checks a month to 85 needy households at risk of losing their homes — a trial , isolating low-income residents from Austin’s increasingly expensive housing market and preventing more people from becoming homeless.

“We can find people just before they land on our streets that stop them from being there,” Mayor Steve Adler said at a news conference Thursday morning. “Not only would that be wonderful for them, it would be wise and smart for Austin city taxpayers because it would be a lot cheaper to distract someone from being homeless than it would be to help them find a home once they’re on our streets.” .”

Eight members of the Austin City Council voted Thursday to establish the Guaranteed Income pilot program and contract with a California nonprofit to implement it.

Austin joins at least 28 US cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh that have tried some form of guaranteed income. Locally, the idea grew out of efforts to overhaul the city’s approach to public safety following the 2020 police brutality protests.

In Texas, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg have also signaled their support for the idea, though those cities don’t yet have similar programs.

Austin officials are working out exactly how the program will work and which families will receive the money. Austinites who qualify have no restrictions on how they can spend the money — but the idea is that they use it to pay for household expenses like rent, utilities, transportation and groceries.

City officials have outlined a few options for who should qualify for assistance: residents who have been filed for eviction or who are struggling to pay their utility bills, as well as people already affected by homelessness.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, some council members expressed concerns about the relative lack of detail about the program and questioned whether it would be a good idea for Austin to use local taxpayers’ money to fund the program rather than having the federal government or nonprofits take the lead to permit .

“I believe we need to invest in people and their basic needs, but I’m not sure that’s the way to go today,” Councilor Alison Alter said at Thursday’s meeting, before voting against the measure.

Brion Oaks, the city’s chief equity officer, told city officials in a memo that the Urban Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, DC, will help measure the impact of the program by looking at factors like the financial stability of participants, stress levels and overall well-being considered while receiving funds.

Preliminary results from a similar pilot program showed some promising results. UpTogether, the California 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 nonprofit said in a statement Thursday. That program gave 173 families $1,000 a month for a year, and the nonprofit said participants used the money for expenses like rent and mortgage payments, childcare, fuel and groceries.

Some were able to top up their savings, more than half of recipients reduced their debt by 75%, and more than a third eliminated household debt, the nonprofit said.

According to Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, the city is home to more than 3,100 people affected by homelessness. A local ban on most evictions during the pandemic kept the number of eviction lawsuits low compared to other major Texas cities, but that number has skyrocketed since the ban ended last year.

Guaranteed income could be a way to counteract these problems, advocates said.

“This is about preventing displacement, preventing evictions and making sure our families can stay in their homes, that we have that stability,” Councilor Vanessa Fuentes said.

Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former executive chairman of the Texas Tribune, was a financial contributor to The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial backers play no part in Tribune journalism. A complete list can be found here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

https://abc13.com/austin-first-texas-city-experiments-guaranteed-income/11823267/ Austin becomes first Texas city to experiment with ‘guaranteed income’

Dais Johnston

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