SAN ANTONIO – Thousands of struggling San Antonio families who qualify will be able to get help with paying bills after the City Council approved a $25 million COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program.
San Antonio residents who can show they are experiencing financial hardship, such as being laid off, will be able to apply to get help paying their rent, mortgage, internet and utility bills. Families in the program will also get cash assistance to help pay for food, gas, and medicine, depending on the number of family members.
“We have to work diligently at the local level because we know that our residents count on us,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told reporters following the Thursday council meeting. “It’s not going to happen at federal level or the state level. We’re going to be looking to their city council and the commissioners court to address the issues which at their estimates are keeping food on the table and roofs over their heads.”
Depending on its income, a family could receive up to $3,500 for rent or mortgage assistance and up $1,500 for internet and utilities payments. Both types of assistance would be paid directly to the landlord, financial institution or service provider.
Cash assistance will be also be distributed directly to the families in the program. Assistance is $150 for a family of one, $200 for a family of two, $250 for a family of three and $300 for a family of four or more. Assistance will not exceed $300.
Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said the program will work with applicants to determine how they want to receive the funds, whether via a wired transaction, a prepaid card or cash.
According to a staff presentation, 1,400 people have already completed applications totaling $2.3 million. The applicants would receive an average of $1,393 for rental, mortgage and utility assistance and an average of $240 in cash.
Houston estimated they will be able to help 15,000 to 20,000 families and it would take about three to seven days for a completed application to be processed.
The program is scheduled to end on July 31, but the council could authorize it to continue. City staff will also report to council the progress of the program in 30 days and recommend any changes.
The new program is an expansion and rebranding of the existing Risk Mitigation Fund, which also helped struggling families with rent, mortgage, utility payments. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused widespread unemployment, inquiries into the RMF shot up from about 57 per week to more than 5,300 in a week.
The new COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program will use the same eligibility criteria as the Risk Mitigation Fund Policy. The cash assistance and payments for internet expenses, however, are new.
The RMF only has $350,000 of its $1 million budget remaining for this year. So city staff originally proposed combining that money with millions of federal dollars along with money from the Affordable Housing Budget and the San Antonio Housing Trust for a $15.8 million budget.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino also successfully pushed to add $9.2 million to the original $15.8 million budget recommendation by moving money around from the general fund and the Under One Roof Program, getting more funding from the San Antonio Housing Trust, and using Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone funds.
“It’s not that we don’t know how much we need. It’s that we know that we’re going to need more. And we know that there’s people that are falling through the cracks,” Trevino said.
The council had previously approved the use of some federal funds on April 16. Two council votes on Thursday approved more funds for the program as well as the policy.
Though he voted with the rest of the council on the first vote Thursday, District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry was the lone dissenting voice during the second vote, which included the additional funds Trevino wanted.
“I’m just very troubled by looking at this perceived need because we don’t know what the requirement is and just throwing another $10 million at it, pulling it out of different accounts that I think is basically coming out of our general fund,” Perry said.
City staff also hope to leverage a further $1.9 million dollars through the Family Independence Initiative and local community funders. The city is also accepting private donations.
Bexar County is also setting up a $4 million rent assistance program for residents of unincorporated Bexar County and participating suburban cities.
- APPLYING: If you would like to apply for assistance through the program, you can apply online by clicking here or by calling 311. The cash payment is provided in addition to the rent, mortgage, and utility assistance. It is not a separate application.
Some families who are working with the Department of Human Services or who are identified by local non-profits may also have a chance to receive cash assistance from the same pot of money, separately from this rent and mortgage assistance program.
- DONATING: If you want to donate to the program, smaller donations can be made by texting HousingHelpSA to 41444. Larger donations through businesses and philanthropic partners will be collected by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During a briefing Thursday, Deputy City Manager María Villagómez presented an update on the financial impacts on the city.
She said the city has spent $12.2 million on the emergency response: $3.7 million on personnel and $8.5 million on non-personnel.
The city is seeking reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a portion of expenses. Villagómez and City Manager Erik Walsh did not estimate how much of that money could be refunded.
CPS Energy’s revenue from payments is down $14.6 million from the fiscal year 2020 budget, Villagómez said.
From October 2019 to March, there was a $6.2 million variance in revenue at CPS Energy due to mild weather, she said. Revenue from April to September is expected to be down another $8.4 million due to usage reduction and an increase in bad debt expense.
The San Antonio Water System’s budget is expected to be down $1.3 million from April to September, Villagómez said.
Both CPS Energy and SAWS have said they will not disconnect services to customers for lack of payment due to the crisis.
Villagómez gave the following information on the impact on some restricted funds:
|Fund||Fiscal year 2020 budget||Potential impact|
|San Antonio International Airport||$148.5 M||($43.2 M)|
|Hotel occupancy tax||$96.1 M||($40.1 M)|
|Alamodome and Convention Center||$33.2 M||($14.7 M)|
|Linear greenways and Edwards Aquifer||$39.6 M||($6.7 M)|
|Parking||$11.3 M||($2.8 M)|
|Market Square||$3.1 M||($1.2 M)|
|Development Services||$37.8 M||($1 M)|
It is too early to tell the financial impacts on solid waste, golf courses and other restricted funds in the city.
Walsh said, “We are keeping our fingers very close to the pulse so it can set us in a position when we need to be prepared for the recovery."
About 26 million people across the country have filed for jobless aid since the pandemic hit, government officials said Thursday. According to the Associated Press, about one in six American workers have now lost their jobs since mid-March.
Economists have suggested that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%.
There are 1,167 COVID-19 cases and 43 deaths in Bexar County, as of Thursday. Nirenberg said Thursday that 64 patients are in the hospital, 32 are in intensive care, 20 are on ventilators.
COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March. The first case confirmed in the U.S. was in mid-January and the first case confirmed in San Antonio was in mid-February.
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