San Antonio gets $46.7M from federal government for rental assistance

New money could mean loosened restrictions on EHAP awards

The city of San Antonio will be able to help more residents struggling to pay their bills.

San Antonio – The City of San Antonio has received $46.7 million dollars from the federal government to bolster its efforts to keep struggling residents in their homes.

The money for rental assistance was awarded through the latest federal stimulus bill and is nearly eight times as much as city staff originally thought the city would receive. It appears this could extend the life of the city’s popular Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP) for several months.

The EHAP has already awarded $68.5 million to more than 26,000 San Antonio households since the pandemic began through rent or mortgage payments, utility assistance and even cash. Excluding the federal money, the total amount allocated to the program, including some $10.1 million on Wednesday, amounts to about $86.8 million.

At least 90% of the incoming federal dollars must be used for direct financial assistance, which includes rent, rental arrears, utilities, and home energy costs. City staff say the money can’t be used for cash assistance.

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told city council members on Wednesday that staff would present a plan for how it would use the money sometime in February.

“We’ll go through the Culture and Neighborhood Services council committee first with our recommendations to potentially amend the Emergency Housing Assistance Program, which would include a discussion about maybe extending eligibility -- maybe no longer two months, go more,” Houston said.

The city council had previously tightened the eligibility and assistance limits for the program back in September. Instead of three months of assistance, residents could get two months worth, with the opportunity for a few hundred dollars in cash for a third month.

The incoming dollars caused the city council to change up some of its funding plans for the program. The council had been set to allocate $13.1 million to the EHAP on Wednesday, but it lowered the amount to $10.1 million -- sending $3 million to assist with building or rehabilitating affordable housing instead.

“I think we have the ability to do both right now and move forward today with both,” District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said.

It was a 6-5 split vote, however, as other members were unconvinced that was the best use for the $3 million.

“Until we’re out of this pandemic and its effects, I fear that any amount that we expend will not be enough for EHAP,” said District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino, who has consistently pushed for more money for rental assistance.

Some of the $10.1 million the council approved includes money from Bexar County, for which the city will now be administering through a rent assistance program.

It was not immediately clear when or how that process would work for county residents or when it would begin.

If you have been affected by the pandemic and need help with your bills, you can get information on the Emergency Housing Assistance Program HERE.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.