City Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) warns his colleagues and constituents of the decreasing funds for the housing assistance program. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

While the City of San Antonio plans to give a nearly $22 million boost to its housing assistance program, that money will likely run out in December, with the federal eviction moratorium due to the coronavirus pandemic expiring at the end of the year.

“Winter is coming, and I’m not trying to make a ‘Game of Thrones’ joke,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said during a City Council committee meeting Monday.

Treviño estimates the assistance funding will run out in early December, and the City should be prepared to find other local, state, or federal dollars to keep that critical program – and the residents who depend on it – afloat into 2021. “I don’t want to be waiting until December to be making decisions,” he said.

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said that the City will continue to monitor that fund and will make adjustments as needed. State officials may step in with additional funds, and the City is encouraging applicants and recipients of housing assistance to apply for the workforce development program, which also includes assistance for living expenses, Houston said. “We want to encourage people to seek employment and the workforce training opportunity provides that $450 cash [per week] … and we’re going to be pushing that.”

Jobs are starting to open up again as the economy starts to slowly rebound, she said.

But the workforce training options may not be the right fit for everyone, Treviño said. “I don’t believe we should force them into a workforce program. … It shouldn’t be their only option. I think that’s just egregious.”

Councilman John Courage (D9) agreed that the City should start planning ahead to extend the program into 2021.

“We don’t see anything forthcoming from Congress in the way of additional relief, so that really does put local governments on the spot for providing the kind of assistance that’s going to be needed in November, December, and who knows when,” Courage said. Having people out of the street in winter can be just as dangerous to their health as in the summer.

“Currently we’re only planning through Dec. 31, but throughout this program, we will analyze the funding levels and how much is being expended and we also continue to monitor the eviction courts,” Houston said.

Under the moratorium, people can’t be evicted, but landlords can still file for evictions. Eviction courts saw an 87 percent increase in eviction filings after a previous national moratorium for federally funded housing expired in August, said Ian Benavidez, assistant director of Neighborhood and Housing Services Department. Since the most recent federal moratorium, eviction filings are “substantially down, but this is only one week of data,” he said.

Some courts are only hearing emergency eviction cases, as residents can still be evicted for other lease violations or criminal activity.

The Council committee also reviewed changes to the proposed eligibility requirements for the program. Last week, City staff proposed that this third phase of $21.9 million in funding should provide assistance only to renters who earn less than 51 percent of the area median income. Currently, the program is open to renters and homeowners earning the area median income or less. On Monday, after considering Council input, staff proposed keeping access to mortgage assistance and increasing the eligible income level to 80 percent of the area median.

City Council will vote on the increased funding and changes to the eligibility requirements on Thursday after a vote on the proposed $2.9 billion fiscal year 2021 budget.

Under the new assistance eligibility proposal, residents could only receive one full month of assistance (up to $5,000) which could include rent, mortgage, utility bills (including internet), and other living expenses, said Edward Gonzalez, assistant director of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department. During the second month, residents could receive a $500 stipend. If a resident has previously received assistance from this fund, they are eligible for one month of cash assistance in Phase 3.

“If [a resident was] going through the eviction court before the moratorium was issued, we would still help them,” Houston said.

Later on Monday, the City’s Housing Commission unanimously approved a letter that will be sent to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council in support of the 2021 budget because it substantially increases funding for the housing assistance program.

To make that increase a nearly $6 million Community Development Block Grant will be reallocated from a gap financing program, and $1 million would be reallocated from minor home repair and owner-occupied housing repair programs, Houston said.

The letter also acts as a reminder to Council to not “take their foot off the gas” when it comes to investing in affordable housing in the future, said Commissioner Pedro Alanis, who crafted the letter. The City’s 10-year affordable housing funding plan, approved by Council in 2018, approaches $3.9 billion in public and private funding but has been interrupted (like most budgets) by the coronavirus.

“We’re reminding folks that affordable housing is [critical] infrastructure,” Alanis said.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org