AUSTIN, Texas (Jan. 25, 2021) — The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) and the Austin Justice Coalition (AJC) are teaming up to launch a new initiative, the How to House campaign, to significantly reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness and make housing a human right for everyone living in Austin.
This initiative aims to recruit property owners and managers across Austin and Travis County to enter into individualized partnerships with ECHO’s Community Housing Team. These partnerships will allow ECHO to connect people exiting homelessness with available units in these properties based on low-barrier tenant screening criteria both parties agree to.
Tenants that ECHO refers to these units will be enrolled in programs that provide rental assistance and case management to ensure people remain stably housed. Each negotiation will also include access to risk mitigation funds, a separate funding stream that can be tapped in cases of outstanding rental balances or damages when the initial lease expires.
“Housing ends homelessness,” said Kaylin Rubin, ECHO’s Community Housing Portfolio Manager. “While we’re looking at ways to build new permanent housing, we can build these new partnerships to utilize existing apartments and have an immediate impact. This will allow our neighbors experiencing homelessness to have more opportunities to gain access to housing, which is a human right. We know how to house our neighbors, and these partnerships turn that knowledge into practice.”
A key component of this campaign is promoting antiracist practices in housing by eliminating barriers that disproportionately impact our Black and other historically oppressed neighbors. For example, about 1 in 10 Travis County residents is Black, compared to 1 in 4 people booked into jail in the county. Justice system entanglements – even relatively minor or dismissed charges – often disqualify prospective tenants from rental properties, meaning Black residents are disproportionately barred from housing opportunities.
Long-lasting effects of disparities in the justice system, education, healthcare, employment, housing, and many other systems mean Black Austinites are 4.8 times more likely to experience homelessness than their white neighbors.
Access to housing units gained through these new partnerships will not be restricted based on race, but increasing the number of units with lower screening criteria will create new housing opportunities for everyone experiencing homelessness, including these marginalized communities.
“Housing justice is key to challenging the legacy of racism in our community” said Chas Moore, Executive Director of AJC. “If we want to be a truly inclusive city, we must find space in our community for those who have been systematically neglected. One action item is to tell your property owner or manager you want to live in an Austin that everyone can live in.”
There are resources for tenants to get involved at howtohouseatx.org, including a letter to send to property owners and managers and sample social media posts to show support for the How to House campaign.
Since launching this campaign in December, ECHO has connected 13 households to permanent housing options developed through these types of partnerships, the first step toward lasting change for individuals and families.
“A year ago, I couldn’t hold a job for longer than a week, and had no real access to effective mental health care,” said Summer Wright, a member of the Austin Youth Collective, a group of young adults with lived expertise of homelessness. Wright experienced homelessness on and off for several years before being connected to an apartment in Austin in April. “Now I have all of that and a cat to boot, all thanks to housing.”