The City of San Antonio will add $21.9 million to the housing assistance fund as it recalibrates federal coronavirus relief funding. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Faced with a dwindling housing assistance fund, the City of San Antonio will add $21.9 million to the pot as it recalibrates federal coronavirus relief funding.

The City’s $52.4 million housing assistance fund, one of the largest in the nation, is expected to run out of money in early October, City officials said Wednesday at a City Council meeting. So far, it has helped 14,937 residents – 85 percent of them renters – with rent, mortgage, utility, and other payments.

Of the additional assistance money, $16.65 million is slated to come from other federal housing grants, savings realized in the City’s General Fund by using federal relief dollars to cover other costs, and from the San Antonio Housing Trust. The remaining $5.25 million is proposed in the city’s 2021 budget.

City Council also is considering providing 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.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he was hesitant to restrict eligibility requirements to receive housing assistance, noting that, on average, residents who receive assistance need it for two to three months.

“The reason for that is loss of income,” Nirenberg said. “Unless we are able to get folks back to receiving income … they’re going to continue to rely on housing assistance.”

The City has begun connecting those residents to the new workforce development program that formally launched last week as part of the COVID-19 Recovery and Resiliency Plan.

“That’s why the workforce program is so important,” Nirenberg said, because it can help people get training to re-enter the workforce force or increase their earnings.

The $75 million workforce development program, funded by federal coronavirus relief money, includes $44 million towards stipends to help participants make ends meet, including rent, while they complete training.

Nirenberg said he’d also like to wait and see how the federal moratorium on evictions will actually impact residents before adjusting eligibility requirements for housing assistance.

In San Antonio, the area median income (AMI) is $72,000 for a family of four and $49,700 for an individual.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) supported limiting the rental assistance to residents who earn 50 percent AMI or less, because the average recipient earned 29 percent AMI.

As an alternative, Perry suggested that the benefit be given to residents on a sliding scale according to income, meaning that people who earn more would get less assistance.

City Manager Erik Walsh said he would present such an option to Council members before they vote on adjustments to the housing allocations next Thursday.

In addition to adjustments in housing assistance, City officials also want to redirect funding to support pandemic response efforts next year.

The City saved an estimated $13 million because the state has covered the cost of coronavirus testing, said Ana Bradshaw, the City’s COVID-19 financial and performance liaison. That and other leveraged savings from using federal dollars for some fire department pandemic response efforts has allowed the City to set aside $53.5 million towards health response efforts in 2021.

The federal coronavirus relief money must be spent by the end of 2020, so any spending plan in 2021 has to be covered with local dollars.

“By closely monitoring our use of [federal relief funds], it creates the opportunity to leverage any savings in that funding in order to address an area where there is an identified need,” Bradshaw said.

The City is not counting on the federal government to step in again with additional funding, Walsh said. “We’ve all probably seen the discussions going on up in Washington, D.C. My recommendation is that we continue to assume we won’t get that money or it will take some time to get here.”

House Democrats have proposed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package while the Trump administration’s proposal is in the $1.3 trillion to $1.5 trillion range. Senate Republicans proposed $500 billion on Tuesday.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

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