AUSTIN, Texas - Police say 22 people are behind bars after a group of over 30 cars drove onto I35 at a speed of 5 miles per hour to demand rent relief.
“It's frustrating to see us working so hard for justice and to bring like these things to light, and then to be silenced like this by APD is expected, but still disappointing,” said one protester.
A rent strike organized by Rent Strike ATX brought traffic to a near standstill after multiple cars protested rent on the interstate.
“We were fighting no rent while we can't work during this crisis. That was really the plan, was to stop traffic to bring attention to this. We had signs and posters,” said the protester.
Officers from the Austin Police Department officers were able to direct the protesters to a parking lot near E. Cesar Chavez Street by the interstate.
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“We were directed off of the highway and the police directed people into this parking lot over here. At that point, I wasn't here, but whenever I returned, everyone's cars were being impounded and everyone was being arrested,” said the protester.
Austin Police say 20 people were arrested for obstructing a highway and two people were arrested for criminal trespassing. The cars used in the protest were impounded.
Rent Strike ATX says many of the protesters were renters struggling themselves. “There's gonna be thousands and thousands of people that are going to be unable to pay rent and are going to be liable for evictions, which is going to follow them for the rest of their life. It's going to be on the renter history and show up on their credit, and, you know, we need to get the word out,” said another protester.
On Friday, city officials announced the "relief of emergency needs for tenants" - or "RENT” program. The program has $1.2 million in city funds to help residents who just can't pay rent.
The one-time rental grant is expected to help about 1,000 Austin families and is available through a lottery system.
“We know that folks are thousands of people in our community just cannot pay rent and so we believe that getting people this help here in the coming days will help them cover that May rent payment,” said District 4 Council Member Greg Casar.
APD says the arrested protester’s charges rank as a Class B Misdemeanor.
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