Bexar County is slowly restarting the sale of homes belonging to people who have fallen behind on their property taxes during the pandemic, according to Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti.

When a property is delinquent on taxes, it can be foreclosed on and auctioned off at a public sale held on the first Tuesday of the month outside the Bexar County Courthouse.

Though the county had already resumed sales of properties behind on their mortgage payments and nonresidential properties that were behind on taxes early last year, Uresti said he delayed bringing back the sale of tax-delinquent homes and is still slowly reintroducing the practice.

“We’re starting to pick up again because, at some point, you’ve got to pick it up,” Uresti said in an interview earlier this month.

Uresti’s office is scrambling to connect homeowners with the ample federal aid available to help them catch up on delinquent property taxes and mortgage payments. The first tax-delinquent residential properties went to auction in October of 2021, though the change was not widely publicized.

“On the first [sale] we probably had about six [properties], so we’ve been going slowly,” said Uresti, said of his ongoing efforts to allow people more time to find more time to address their owed taxes.

Bidders — often investors — use foreclosure sales as a means to pick up inexpensive properties in a booming real estate market.

To cut down on the power of institutional buyers, Uresti said he hasn’t allowed online sales at the foreclosure auctions.

“Some cities do that, but I have not allowed that,” he said. “They have to come and bid or send somebody.”

As of July 2021, when the moratorium on residential properties was still in place, roughly 33,000 residential properties in Bexar County were delinquent in property taxes, according to Mi Ciudad Es Mi Casa, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income people fight their property valuations.

Roughly 500 of those homes owed more than $5,000 and had already received a delinquency judgement from the Tax Assessor-Collector, meaning they could be taken to sale when the moratorium ended.

“Investors know [its happening,],” said Mi Ciudad Es Mi Casa President Rich Acosta. “They’re like, ‘Finally the floodgates are back open.'”

The federal government gave Texas $842 million to help people who are behind on property taxes and mortgage payments due to the pandemic, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act Congress passed in 2021. 

The federal grants pay up to $25,000 for overdue property taxes and $40,000 for overdue mortgage payments to residents who earn less than $80,000 per year and are behind due to pandemic-related challenges.

As of Thursday, only about $74 million had been paid out to help about 9,000 Texas households. 

“I don’t know why this state has not done a better job of dispersing this money,” said Uresti said of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which administers the grants.

“[Texas was] supposed to have intake centers throughout the state, and to the best of my knowledge, we’re the only ones in the state that have an intake center,” he said.

The Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office, located at 233 N. Pecos La Trinidad, has lines dedicated specifically to helping people fill out the grant applications, open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

They also have staff helping people at BiblioTech libraries located across the city from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. No appointment is necessary for either location.

While the applications are relatively simple, they’re entirely online, and require a valid Texas ID, an income statement (such as a W2 tax form or paystub) and evidence of the delinquency. Uresti said his office is helping people gather the necessary documentation, and providing technical support.

“You have to have a computer, you have to have internet, you have to have a scanner and you have to have a printer to do this,” said Uresti. “We’ve had to create a lot of emails for the people that we’re serving, because a lot of them have no idea how to do this.”

Of the roughly 9,300 Texas households that have received the grants, 1,523 of them are in Bexar County. Bexar County accounts for almost 16% of the assistance paid out so far, more than any other county.

“I wanted to make sure Bexar County [residents] got the money they needed,” Uresti said.

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.