The City of San Antonio will submit a grant application this month to the federal government, seeking money to bolster its eviction prevention programs.

City Council unanimously voted to apply for $3 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Eviction Protection Grant Program on Thursday, just one week after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a national eviction moratorium.

The eviction moratorium is dead, but housing assistance, the Right to Counsel program, and other eviction prevention programs will continue with local, state, and federal funding.

The money would allow the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department to hire more staff and work with legal aide partners to assist approximately 10,500 residents with legal services, system navigation, and assistance applications, said department director Veronica Soto.

It would also allow the city to expand its eviction intervention team, which reaches out to both tenants and landlords. The expansion could serve an estimated 40,000 households over two years, she said.

This is in addition to the city’s existing Right to Counsel program, which started in March 2019 as a pilot program by former Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1).

No longer a pilot, its budget has grown five-fold to nearly $500,000 this year with additional city and federal coronavirus relief grants. Legal kiosks in municipal courts and other locations provide access to legal aid for those who don’t have internet access.

HUD is expected to allocate eviction protection grants of between $1 million and $3 million, totaling $20 million across the country over the next two years, starting Oct. 15.

“There’s still quite a few families who are falling through the cracks,” said Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5). “It is incumbent on local leaders to ensure that families can remain in their homes to protect themselves from this pandemic and houselessness.”

Castillo and Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) have hosted two housing assistance events in the past month that have drawn hundreds of residents seeking help. Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3) and Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) are planning a similar event.

Sandoval said the Right to Counsel program and other housing assistance should continue beyond the pandemic.

“We had a housing crisis before the pandemic started,” Sandoval said. “We see home prices rising faster in San Antonio than we ever had before. Places like [District 2] are suffering some of the most extreme increases in home and rent prices.

During the discussion, a group of about a dozen community housing advocates disrupted the proceedings by chanting “Eviction is violence! eviction is violence!” and “What do we want? No evictions! When do we want it? Now!”

Activists are escorted out of Council Chambers following chanting against housing evictions. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Before they were escorted out of council chambers by security, most spoke in support of the grant application measure, but said the city should build more affordable housing and do more to prevent homelessness. Others questioned whether the upcoming housing bond would benefit poor residents — or developers.

“We have no [community] representatives on any powerful housing committee,” said Graciela Sanchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. She noted the recent replacement of Jessica Guerrero, a longtime housing justice advocate, on the San Antonio Housing Commission with former Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5).

“We’re not taking care of the people who need it the most,” Sanchez told the San Antonio Report.

The 2022-2027 bond program is the first in San Antonio’s history that can be used to build affordable housing. The $20 million neighborhood improvements bond in 2017 enabled land purchases and infrastructure that facilitated affordable housing.

Ahead of each bond election, community bond committees are formed to collect input on each portion of the proposed package and then make recommendations to council. That process has not yet begun for the record $1.2 billion municipal bond proposed for 2022.

Find out more about housing and financial assistance programs on the City’s website or call 311.

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