Cassiano Homes is a 65-year-old West San Antonio low-income housing complex.
SAHA's Cassiano Homes complex, built in 1953, serves low-income residents on the near West Side. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

This story has been updated.

The San Antonio Housing Authority’s pandemic-era eviction moratorium expires at the end of February, and more than 4,000 families are behind on their rent.

Officials are encouraging those residents, who either receive public housing assistance or live in properties managed by the agency, to set up payment plans with the housing authority and apply to the city for assistance.

“We are not going to file evictions on March 1,” said Brandee Perez, SAHA’s chief operating officer. “The message that we are trying to really get out to our residents is: communication. Eviction really, truly is our last resort,” for those few residents who have not made any contact with the housing authority.

On Friday from 3 – 6 p.m., SAHA is hosting events at two locations to help residents get signed up for assistance, the Francis Furey and Pin Oak apartment complexes.

The majority of residents with a past due balance are considered “extremely low or very low-income and most severely affected by the pandemic,” according to a press release from SAHA earlier this week, which notes that all SAHA residents earn, on average, $200 a week or less than $10,000 a year.

Collectively, all the residents in arrears owe nearly $5 million — about $1,250 per household. Most of those have been in communication and are taking advantage of relief options, Perez said, and SAHA will continue to work with those residents to set up repayment agreements and provide rent reduction for residents experiencing a loss of income.

“Our role in this community is to house the most vulnerable population,” she said. “And what we are going to continue to do is, communicate with our families, do the outreach and encourage them to apply [to] get those last-minute applications in before the 28th.”

That date is not only the end of SAHA’s eviction moratorium; the city’s pandemic-era housing relief program is also ending this month. Payments under that program will continue to be processed and distributed, but the city will no longer accept new applications starting March 2.

However, another city fund may be able to help residents pay rent beyond that deadline.

On March 1, the city will restart its Risk Mitigation Fund, which it first launched in 2019 to prevent displacement of vulnerable residents. With a massive influx of federal coronavirus relief cash in 2020, the fund was renamed and pivoted to focus on pandemic relief.

Since then, more than $185 million has been dispersed to more than 156,000 households in rent and mortgage, utilities, internet, and cash assistance, according to the city’s online dashboard. The average assistance per household was $3,095.

Now, as that program winds down, the risk mitigation fund will fire back up. As of now, it covers relocation costs or rental assistance due to hardship for 3 months of rent over a 12-month period, capped at $5,000.

But those terms could change, said Elizabeth Mercado, a public relations manager for the city. The fund is currently under review by staff to make sure it “meets the need of those most vulnerable in our community, reflecting current circumstances,” while also making “the most sensible use” of the funding available.

“Residents will have to prove hardship,” she said, “however, it won’t be limited to a COVID-related hardship.”

The risk mitigation fund was expected to restart with a balance of $4.5 million, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said, but the city has also built up other resources for tenants, including its Right to Counsel program for eviction courts.

The city will also maintain its staff at eviction courts to help guide residents through the process and connect them to other local, state or federal services.

There are 58,500 families on the SAHA waiting list for housing, a roughly 70% increase from pre-pandemic levels.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org