SAN ANTONIO – A city program meant to help struggling families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic pay their bills has paid out more than half of the money available, and city staff expect it to run out of funds sometime in September.
The $50.3 million COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program, which was funded through two separate council actions since the beginning of the pandemic, has already seen $28.8 million distributed for rent and mortgage payments, utility and internet bills and direct cash assistance since April. Applicants can get help for up to three months of bills. City staff said 97% get help for more than one month.
Even still, the city’s dashboard for the program shows a steady stream of applications - nearly 16,900 as of Monday evening.
The money is meant for people who have had some kind of economic hardship because of COVID-19, whether it’s a hospital stay or a loss of work.
Jeremy Walker, an electrician, said he was applying for the program because COVID-19 cases had caused job sites to be shut down at the last place he worked.
“Once work slowed down, it was pretty much - I obviously didn’t have money to pay rent and utilities,” Walker said.
Veronica Soto, director of the Neighborhood & Housing Services Department, which oversees the program, said the rate of applications is also up.
“So a month ago, we were getting about 115 applications coming in. Last week, we started getting about 200 applications per day,” Soto said.
Soto chalked up the increase in demand to several factors, including: the expected loss of the extra $600 in unemployment benefits, the end to a federal moratorium on evictions, and the resumption of eviction hearings in Bexar County - at which Neighborhood & Housing Services made sure to have staff.
“We very proactively, along with the county, had our staff teams be at the court hearings and talk about our program, or the courts mailed information out about our program when people got a notice for a hearing. So there’s a lot more awareness from people facing eviction about our program,” Soto said.
About $500,000 is going out to residents now, per day, Soto said.
Not everyone gets the money, though. Of the 15,624 processed applications Monday evening, more than one-third had been denied.
Most of the denials were because someone did not live within the city limits of San Antonio, Soto said. Other issues included earning above the income eligibility requirements, duplicate applications or incomplete applications.
Soto said a request had been made to include money for the program in the FY 2021 budget. The budget year begins Oct. 1, and city staff are scheduled to present a proposed budget to city council members on Aug. 6.