As the cost of living rises, Austin will become the first major Texas city to utilize local tax dollars to provide a “guaranteed income” to low-income families.
To keep residents housed, Austin will send monthly checks of $1,000 to eighty-five needy households for one year who are experiencing financial hardships and are at risk of losing their homes.
The Austin City Council voted last Thursday to approve the $1 million pilot program. The city council had previously approved $1.18 million for this purpose in its fiscal year 2021-22 budget.
Lana Gibson-Alexander, a mom of four and a grandmother of six, knows firsthand how helpful a program such as this can be.
Gibson-Alexander was close to eviction from her residence in 2021 when her apartment manager introduced her to UpTogether, a community program and platform that helps those in “undervalued” communities.
She proclaimed that the UpTogether program had changed her life, providing money she used for car payments, rent, and other bills.
“It was definitely a blessing and a godsend in my life at that time,” said Gibson-Alexander.
The City of Austin is now collaborating with the same organization to create a guaranteed income pilot program.
“We can find people moments before they end up on our streets that prevent them, divert them from being there,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a press conference. “That would be not only wonderful for them, it would be wise and smart for the taxpayers in the city of Austin because it will be a lot less expensive to divert someone from homelessness than to help them find a home once they’re on our streets.”
Austin officials are still determining how the program will work and which families will receive the funds. There are no restrictions dictating how qualifying Austinites spend the money. However, it is expected that they will use the funds to cover household expenses such as rent, utilities, transportation, and groceries.
According to city officials, residents who are facing eviction or are having difficulties paying their utility bills, as well as those who are already homeless, are among the groups who may be eligible for assistance.
However, Austin City Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly has doubts about the initiative.
“I do not believe that the guaranteed income pilot is the solution to Austin’s affordability problem,” said Kelly to KXAN. “I want our community to have a better quality of life, and we need to focus on finding permanent solutions to make the city more affordable for everyone.”
During the pandemic, several Texas metro areas carried out guaranteed income plans.
San Antonio and El Paso County programs have provided regular payments to low-income households by using a combination of federal stimulus funds and philanthropic contributions. The Texas Tribune reports Austin is thought to have the only program entirely funded by local taxpayers.
It is not yet clear when the program will be initiated, however, it could be part of the rollout of Austin’s strategic 2023 plan, which specifies homelessness and displacement as indicators of city success.