County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to expand a rental assistance program to cover back rent for Bexar County residents who need help with living costs due to the novel coronavirus.

The Temporary Rental Assistance Measure (TRAM), administered by the Housing Authority of Bexar County, offers one to three months of rental assistance to Bexar County residents living outside of the City of San Antonio who have experienced income loss or unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The $9.4 million program is funded by federal coronavirus relief money and the County’s general fund.

More than 700 residents had requested a total of $937,546 from the program between May 1 and mid-last week, said David Marquez, executive director of the County’s economic and community development department. The County has paid out $388,523 in assistance funding so far.

Commissioner Tommy Calvert asked County staff members to research whether they could negotiate with landlords to avoid paying for late fees levied against residents who fell behind on rent, as well as requiring landlords to prove the costs they incurred that would require late fees.

“We should make the landlord prove their true curing costs,” Calvert said. “Sometimes landlords put in a penalty because it’s a deterrent. It’s not a missed mortgage penalty to them. We should be able to negotiate some burden of proof on the landlord .. so [renters are] not paying exorbitant fees just because.”

Half of the requests for rental assistance came from Precinct 4, Marquez said, mirroring the high number of unemployment claims that were filed from that district, which encompasses the East Side.

The County is also in the process of establishing a $259,000 emergency stipend program to help families cover other living costs such as energy bills. Marquez estimated that around 1,000 families could be served with payments of $150 to $300 each for miscellaneous living expenses. 

Commissioners also approved Marquez’s request to authorize the Housing Authority of Bexar County to subcontract with local nonprofit organizations to help reach out to county residents, field phone calls, and process applications. The City of San Antonio hired temporary workers to staff its rental assistance program, but the County already had some success with partnering with nonprofits to help with its small business grant program, Marquez said.

The county’s $6.4 million small business grant program, administered by microlender LiftFund, began awarding grants on Monday. Businesses, which could apply to receive as much as $25,000, were chosen to receive grants based on a lottery system, which meant inputting information into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and then randomly selecting names, said Deborah Carter, director of economic development.

Out of the 1,514 applications received, LiftFund awarded grants to 484 businesses in all four precincts. Grants will continue to be distributed through July 24.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.