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City Council passes utility relief ordinance to aid Austinites during coronavirus crisis

The measure aims to reduce utility bill impacts for households and businesses facing financial hardship

An aerial photograph of tall and medium-height, closely spaced buildings, many of them made of limestone and glass. There’s a river waterfront and a strip of trees in the foreground.
The Austin skyline.
Getty Images

In a time when Austinites face unemployment, economic hardship, and housing instability owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Austin City Council continues to work towards helping to alleviate some the immediate economic impacts wrought by the novel coronavirus. On Thursday, City Council approved an emergency ordinance that will reduce utility bill impacts for residences and business facing financial hardship brought on by COVID-19.

The ordinance puts into place a moratorium on city utility disconnections, waives city utility late fees, extends the deadline for commercial and multifamily energy audit and benchmark reporting, and reduces certain city electric and water rates. It also extends eligibility for the city utilities’ customer assistance program, Plus 1, to those facing financial hardship owing to the pandemic.

“During this time of crisis and uncertainty, no one should go without utility service or worry about mounting bills they cannot pay due to illness or unexpected job loss,” said Council Member Tovo, who sponsored the item calling on utility relief assistance.

The ordinance is the latest measure adopted by the city to provide relief for Austinites in the wake of unemployment, business closures, and shelter-in-place orders brought on by COVID-19. In late March, City Council approved an anti-eviction ordinance that as of April 1 delays evictions and gives tenants an additional 60 days to pay rent before landlords can post notices to vacate. The city has also suspended any pending eviction-related court proceedings through at least May 9.

Taken together, the ordinances aim to provide a public health benefit by limiting displacement and extending necessary utilities like heat and hot water during a time when officials advise residents to stay in their homes to curb the further spread of the virus.

Travis County’s shelter-in-place order that was originally set to expire on Monday, April 13 is poised to be extended indefinitely come Tuesday, April 14. The order encourages Austinites to stay home unless performing essential activities such as grocery shopping or endeavors related to health and safety.