WHO WE ARE
The Austin Tenants Council
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
As the 1960's experienced a continued decline in the housing stocks of America's inner cities, Austin Tenants Council (ATC) was formed in 1973 to help tenants so their housing didn’t hang in the whim of their landlords. When we first organized, we were focused on the citizens in East Austin. Then, we started getting calls from low-income renters all over Austin.
After 2 years of service, our calls increased rapidly from just 15 per month, to over 200 per month. It had become clear that without the Tenants Council, the people would have no place to turn. Calls poured in to our office. They consisted not only of low-income families, but also university students, young working couples, middle income families, and other professionals.
By the late 1970's, Austin faced deteriorating housing conditions and a shortage of safe, decent, sanitary housing for low and moderate income tenants. ATC, responding to the need to rehabilitate Austin's existing rental housing stock, initiated its Renters' Rights Assistance Program (RRAP) in 1979 to find ways to obtain repairs that were not too expensive to the landlord, did not raise rent, and did not force tenants to move.
As Austin expanded, so did ATC. Compare these figures from the beginning to the end of the decade: ATC counseled over 8,000 people in 1981 and over 11,000 in 1988. In 1987, ATC established the Housing Emergency Loan Program (Project HELP) with grant money awarded from Hands Across America. Project HELP offered revolving, interest-free loans for tenants to use to pay security deposits or unpaid rent.
Renting in Austin during the 1990s created an extraordinary burden on tenants. Rents jumped 50% over a two year period between 1992 and 1994. To address the need for a centralized list of affordable housing units, a VISTA volunteer created ATC's Guide to Affordable Housing in the Greater Austin Area. This 1995 directory became the first of its kind for Central Texas offering lists of houses and apartments that received low-interest loans, grants and other incentives to provide affordable rental units.
In 1996, ATC received a $590,000 Fair Housing Enforcement grant from HUD. This grant allowed ATC to begin testing of housing providers in the Austin Area. The fair housing testing program has become invaluable in uncovering discrimination that may have otherwise gone unaddressed.
The struggle for housing rights in Austin is as meaningful today as it was in 1973. Tenants of the 2010s face obstacles similar to those faced in the 1970s: poor living conditions, exorbitant rents, and housing discrimination. For this reason, the Austin Tenants Council remains a part of the community forty-five years later, still advocating for safe, decent, affordable and fair housing for all.