This Texas City is Becoming the First City With Another Guaranteed Income

Austin will be the first big city in Texas to use local tax money to help low-income families stay in their homes as the cost of living in the capital city goes through the roof.

As part of a $1 million pilot program that was approved by the Austin City Council on Thursday, the city will send monthly checks of $1,000 to 85 needy households that are at risk of losing their homes. The goal is to protect low-income residents from Austin’s rising housing costs and keep more people from becoming homeless.

“Just moments before they get to our streets, we can find people that stop them or direct them away from being there,” Mayor Steve Adler said at a press meeting Thursday morning. “Not only would that be great for them, but it would also be smart for citizens of Austin because it will cost less to keep someone from being homeless than to help them find a place to live once they’re there.”

On Thursday, eight members of the Austin City Council agreed to start the “guaranteed income” pilot program and hire a California nonprofit to run it.

At least 28 towns in the U.S., including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, have tried some kind of guaranteed income. Austin is the latest to join them. In my area, the idea came from attempts to change how the city handles public safety after the 2020 protests over police brutality.

During the pandemic, other Texas metro areas have tried out programs that promise income. Low-income families in San Antonio and El Paso County have been getting regular payments from programs that use a mix of government stimulus funds and donations from the public. People in Austin think they have the only program that is paid for entirely by city taxes.

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The city of Austin is still figuring out the details of the scheme and which families will get the money. People in Austin who qualify won’t be limited in how they spend the money, but the money should be used to cover things like rent, bills, transportation, and food.

People who are facing eviction or having trouble paying their energy bills, as well as people who are already homeless, are some of the people that city officials have suggested should be able to get help.

Before the vote on Thursday, some council members were worried that there weren’t enough details about the program. They also wondered if it was a good idea for Austin to pay for the program with local taxes instead of letting the federal government or groups handle it.

Alison Alter, a council member, said at Thursday’s meeting, “I think we do need to invest in people and their basic needs, but I’m not sure that this is the right way today.” She then voted against the bill.

In a memo to city officials, Brion Oaks, the city’s chief equity officer, said that the Urban Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C., will help measure the program’s success by looking at things like participants’ overall health, stress levels, and financial stability while they are getting the money.

An early look at the results of a similar pilot study was positive. The California nonprofit UpTogether will be in charge of the program in Austin. The nonprofit said in a statement Thursday that it ran a separate guaranteed income program in Austin and Georgetown that finished in March and was paid for by private donations. The nonprofit said that the 173 people who took part in the program used the $1,000 a month for a year to pay for things like child care, gas, groceries, and rent or mortgage.

The nonprofit said that some people were able to save more, more than half cut their debt by 75%, and more than a third got rid of all of their family debt.

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition in Austin says that there are more than 3,100 homeless people in the city. During the pandemic, most evictions were banned in the area. This kept the number of eviction cases low compared to other big Texas towns, but since the ban ended last year, the number has gone through the roof. People in favor of guaranteed income said it might be one way to deal with these issues.

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