AUSTIN—Fallout from the coronavirus outbreak continues, and local governments across the state are shutting down many citizens’ livelihoods as the Austin City Council approved a two-month grace period for renters.

On Thursday, the city council unanimously passed an ordinance that will delay rent payments for 60 days after the bill is due, aligning with Travis County’s recent decision to delay eviction hearings until at least May 8. Those who need the 60-day grace period must prove to their landlords they were affected by the pandemic.

“This is intended just for individuals who have been impacted by job loss or having their hours cut,” said Council Member Kathie Tovo.

The ordinance takes effect immediately and covers both residential and commercial properties.

Some citizens say the delay itself isn’t enough, advocating for a full freeze on rent and utility bills.

“This is merely kicking the can down the road,” Lily Velona testified. “We will have an eviction crisis on our hands in 60 days.”

On the other hand, some local land owners testified that not receiving rent income could be disastrous to their—and their employees’—livelihoods.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook, and we’re trying to help as many people as we can,” said Manu Saini, a property manager in Austin. “If you intervene and prevent us from collecting rent, we won’t be able to pay our employees. We’re going to lose our healthcare. Our employees are going to lose their jobs.”

“We do have individuals in this city that depend upon the rent they receive as landlords for one property or two properties, and that’s what they depend upon to live on,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said.

“I spoke to many of my constituents, some who are renters who are concerned, and some who are small landlords,” said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. “Even my own landlord, who I rent a duplex from … lives in a duplex around the corner from me and owns a few duplexes in the neighborhood, and … not every landlord is a multinational corporation.”

The council did also pass an ordinance Thursday that could help property managers, adding multifamily and commercial real estate to the list of small businesses eligible for short-term business loans until federal disaster funds arrive.

The council’s actions come only a few days after Mayor Steve Adler and county officials enacted a mandatory “stay-at-home” order for all of Travis and Williamson counties, shutting down all “non-essential” businesses, restricting travel, banning all public and private gatherings outside a single household, and imposing a $1,000 fine and up to six months of jail for violators. As of Friday, there are currently 137 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Travis County.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.