Austin gave low-income residents $1,000 a month with no strings attached. One participant said the payments helped her get her first permanent apartment.

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Austin gave low-income residents $1,000 a month with no strings attached. One participant said the payments helped her get her first permanent apartment.
Stephanie Hendon participated in the Austin Basic Income Pilot.Stephanie Hendon
  • Stephanie Hendon saw her life improve after participating in the Austin Guaranteed Income Pilot.
  • Hendon could afford rent on a new apartment, a new car, and other daily expenses.
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Stephanie Hendon, 34, lived in a shelter while working as much as possible to provide for her four kids. Her husband was living on the street, and she was struggling to see a future for herself in Austin.

She applied for the Austin Guaranteed Income Pilot, which gave 135 low-income families $1,000 monthly with funding from the City of Austin and philanthropic donations. Within a year, she had a three-bedroom apartment, a new car, clothes for her children, a new job, and new financial strategies for the future.

"With the security that the extra $1,000 gave me, I didn't have to worry or stress," Hendon said. "I was able to spend more time with my children, spend more time with my husband."

Austin was the first city in Texas to launch a taxpayer-funded guaranteed-income program, and its results have been mostly promising. An analysis by the Urban Institute think tank found that participants predominantly spent their $1,000 payments on housing and food. The share of participants who could not afford a balanced meal declined by 17 percentage points by the end of the pilot.

The pilot is expected to continue next year with a new group of participants. Austin's City Council is expected to finalize the grants over the next few months, and at least 85 families will be included, receiving $1,000 each month for a year.

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Still, the Austin pilot — and dozens of others nationwide — have not been entirely successful for every participant. Jessica Nairns, 43, told Business Insider that while the program helped her advance her career and buy essentials, she still is unhoused and doesn't have the financial stability to plan for the future.

Ivanna Neri, senior director of partnerships at UpTogether, which partnered with Austin for the pilot, told BI that the pilot cannot drastically improve all participants' lives when there's an affordable housing crisis and inequality in healthcare and education.

Navigating difficult circumstances

Hendon was born and raised in Detroit in what she described as "really rough" conditions. She said her neighborhood had a lot of violence, drugs, and homelessness, and she said for most of her upbringing, she lived in various shelters with her mom. Growing up, she said her mom, who shares her name, used her credit and jeopardized her financial situation.

She met her future husband at 13, and as a teenager, her performance in school dropped. When Hendon was 16, her future husband was sentenced to a few years in prison. Hendon went to college for a bit and then dropped out and continued to struggle with homelessness.

She married her husband after he got out of prison, and then they both pursued bachelor's degrees in theology and philanthropy and joined a church as preachers. She and her husband have four children and both worked long hours. Hendon is still in school studying communications online while working full-time.

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Austin gave low-income residents $1,000 a month with no strings attached. One participant said the payments helped her get her first permanent apartment.
Stephanie HendonStephanie Hendon

2018 was a rough year for Hendon — she started receiving blood transfusions, and three members of her husband's family died within a month of one another. Her husband spent a few weeks in the hospital to recover from mental health struggles.

In 2022, after her husband's last semester of college, they took out a loan and moved to Austin, where her adopted sister was living. After a few months with her sister, Hendon and her family used their savings to stay in hotel rooms.

"We left Michigan because there was just a lot going on, and we were kind of trying to start a new life," Hendon said.

The next few months were bumpy — they landed in a shelter in June, and Hendon lived out of her car temporarily.

"We were outside, we were in cars. I'm working, and when I got down here, I landed a job within a month," Hendon said. "I'm working to keep the car so we can get around and figure our way out."

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Turning her life around

Hendon applied to the pilot program in June 2022, and after taking some surveys and doing some background checks, she started receiving payments in September.

Hendon said she spent her first few payments on buying her children new clothes and shoes for about $400, as well as hygienic products and additional food and snacks for the shelter, totaling about $300. She also bought a TV for inside the shelter, while some of the money went toward transit and other daily expenses for her husband, who was still living outside.

Austin gave low-income residents $1,000 a month with no strings attached. One participant said the payments helped her get her first permanent apartment.
Stephanie Hendon has four children.Stephanie Hendon

In November 2022, after a few months of saving whatever she could, she got her own place in an apartment community, which was $1,200 a month. It was a two-bedroom apartment, and it was a much more stable arrangement than the shelter.

"If it wasn't for the pilot program, I would not have had the money to be able to save up to pay for my security deposit, which was $2,100," Hendon said. "I'm trying to pay for the rental, so all the money that I'm getting is going into the rental."

She transferred her kids to a new school closer to their apartment as she could afford uniforms for them. She used extra money from the payments, her work income, and her savings to buy a car with a $4,500 deposit.

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After a few months, Hendon and her family moved to a three-bedroom apartment down the street from her children's school, which she said is nearly $1,700 a month with utilities.

"We're not getting income from the pilot anymore, but it truly did help us set up a plan and help us to execute our plan well," Hendon said. "Without the extra $1,000 every month for that year, we would probably be back in Michigan or still homeless. I honestly can't even tell you where we would be if the pilot never approved us."

She said she also used some of the money for interview clothes, which helped her secure a full-time job last June as a retention specialist for a telecommunications company. She had lost her previous job and was unemployed for over a month, and she said the pilot allowed her to quickly get back into the workforce as she could more easily afford gas to get between her work trainings.

The pilot also gave her more flexibility to pursue her bachelor's in communications in hopes of becoming a crisis counselor or a trauma therapist for children.

"I just want to be able to inspire them and tell them to keep going and don't give up," Hendon said. "I had a really rough life, and I really do desire to give back to people and help people and let them know that they're seen and heard."

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She said she learned from the pilot how to budget and discipline herself for long-term financial success. She also received guidance for bettering her emotional health through podcasts and other resources.

The only drawback of the program for her, she said, was that funds were difficult at first to access, though she felt that overall these types of programs are necessary for bettering the lives of many lower-income Americans nationwide. She said public attitudes need to change since many lower-income Americans are fighting to better themselves in whatever ways they can.

"A lot of people out here are not on drugs, everybody out here didn't get themselves into this situation, and some people do need help or assistance or did grow up in a situation that really wasn't their fault," Hendon said. "This program made it available for me to get more funds and be a better parent and person all around because they didn't judge me. They didn't say, I'm not going to help you, the world isn't fair."

Have you recently received payments from a basic income program in a US city? Reach out to this reporter at nsheidlower@businessinsider.com.

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