San Antonio – The City of San Antonio is considering re-branding and massively expanding a program to help struggling families with expenses like rent and utility payments.
In a plan city staff presented to council members on Thursday, the existing Risk Mitigation Fund would be transformed into the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program, which would last through the end of July. City staff believes a $15.8 million budget could help about 10,000 families who are struggling because of the pandemic.
“That assumes that they would each get, on average, about $1,500 in assistance through either rent or mortgage assistance, plus other direct assistance that will cover groceries and fuel,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told reporters after the council meeting.
The city has seen a huge surge in people requesting help through the RMF, which assists people in emergencies with paying rent, mortgage, and utility payments. Prior to March, the city received about 57 inquiries a week about the RMF. Last week it received more than 5,300 requests.
The RMF only has $350,000 of its $1 million budget remaining for this year. So city staff propose combining that money with millions of federal dollars along with money from the Affordable Housing Budget and the San Antonio Housing Trust. The city is also accepting private donations.
The resulting pot of money would be disbursed based on the existing RMF policies, but the type of allowable expenses would be expanded to include gas, groceries and even internet expenses.
Bills such as rent or utilities would be paid directly, and Houston said the city is looking at using gift cards up to $300 for gas and groceries.
To get the money, the resident would need to show proof of hardship, such as a termination letter from a job, hospital paperwork or receipts of unexpected expenses.
Houston said the city does not yet know how long the money will last, but it’s possible it will need more funds.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino pushed for the city to kick in more money, saying the federal funds that would make up most of the program’s budget have restrictions.
“So what I was simply trying to say was we need to augment the Risk Mitigation Fund by at least $10 million so that it is a more even split," Trevino said after the meeting. "So that we can actually use those locally sourced dollars, the funds coming from the city, to to help those the way we want to help them here locally.”
While Trevino suggested dipping into the city’s reserve funds to bolster the program’s budget, City Manager Erik Walsh warned against that, calling the reserves the city’s “last line of defense.”
“I wouldn’t recommend doing that while we’re still in all this uncertainty, but we could go back and make further recommendations and cuts to free up money to do that," Walsh told council members.
The San Antonio City Council is scheduled to vote whether to approve the new program on April 23.
Resident wanting to make small donations can do so by texting “HousingHelpSA” to 41444.
Larger donations, such as those from businesses, will be collected via email at email@example.com.
COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.
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