The City of San Antonio will receive an additional $3.6 million in state funds to help pay the rent of struggling residents during the coronavirus pandemic.
The City’s $76 million program, which pays rent, mortgage, and utility bills as well as cash assistance, is expected to run out at the end of January – just one month after the federal eviction moratorium will expire, City officials told a City Council committee on Monday,
This new Texas Emergency Rental Assitance Program is expected to last until the end of February, assisting 449 households with a current or future rent payment and up to five months of back rent.
But a “tidal wave” of evictions is expected in 2021, said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who chairs the Council’s Neighborhood and Culture Committee.
“I will implore that we continue to look at ways to increase our emergency housing assistance funds substantially before the new year because we know that this is about to flare up again,” Treviño said.
Treviño said Council should be prepared to dip into other local funding options, including other elements of the City’s COVID-19 recovery and response plan, if the federal government doesn’t step in to help.
Councilmembers Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Councilman John Courage (D9) agreed that the City should have a plan in case the city’s on its own.
“I think it’s important … that we also see where we are with the [funding] so that we can start looking … even within our own Council [district] budgets to see what we can do to redirect some dollars,” Viagran said.
In August, Viagran directed $145,000, years’ worth of district savings, to help pay for housing assistance in District 3.
City staff have been deployed to eviction courts in hopes of preventing evictions and have reached out to residents before their hearing date to inform them of their rights and available assistance, said Veronica Soto, director of the City’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department.
About $360,000, or 10 percent of the Texas Emergency Rental Assistance Program, will be used to bolster that eviction diversion pilot program that started in September.
“It’s really hard to do a lot of projections,” Soto said. “We can see the trend and we can make our best estimates, but we know that after the moratorium, the number of eviction filings will go up.”
Since the pandemic began, evictions overall are down, but are trending up, court data shows.
Pre-pandemic, roughly 1,800 evictions were filed in January and February. That dropped to less than 200 in May when most courts were closed and eviction restrictions on public housing were in place. June saw a spike to nearly 800 filings after most courts reopened. Evictions continue to increase even after the moratorium took effect in September.
“Typically January is a higher month for evictions anyway,” said Sara Wamsley, a housing policy manager for the City. “We see more people who decided not to file during the holidays for whatever reason. … [And] all of the cases that we’ve seen reset over the course of the last four months because of the CDC moratorium … close to 400 will come [before the court] in January again.”
According to court data collected by City staff, 35 percent of eviction cases heard since mid-June resulted in a default judgment in favor of the landlord – meaning the tenant didn’t show up for the hearing.
“Many people are aware of CDC eviction moratorium and they wrongly think they don’t have to show up to a hearing,” Soto said.
The moratorium only applies to evictions due to nonpayment and tenants must also sign a sworn declaration, Soto said. Justices of the peace continue to hear evictions due to other violations as well as backlogged evictions.
Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) suggested that elected officials should have discussions with those justices about possibly delaying eviction judgments when the tenant doesn’t show up.
Justices of the peace are elected officials, too, Soto noted, and can decide to delay hearing or closing their courts.
“Decisions about operations [are] really up to the justice of the peace,” she said.