Hays County at risk of losing some federal funding for housing assistance

Hays

HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Hays County is at risk of losing tens of thousands of federal dollars that were allocated to help people impacted by the pandemic with housing. But it does still have millions to help residents.

It said it wasn’t able to distribute that money sooner, because it originally planned on hiring an outside company to manage the process but wasn’t able to do so.

Right as you enter San Marcos, there’s a motel that temporarily houses several Emergency Rental Assistance applicants.

“I’d be out on the streets,” Mike Orlovoski, one of the ERA applicants, said. “Well, I was kicked out of the place I was staying, while I was in the hospital.”

Diagnosed as a COVID-19 long hauler, he still deals with severe side effects complicated by his diabetes.

“I think since August I’ve worked maybe 35 hours, because either I’m in the hospital or I’m at home, and the doctor won’t release me to return back to work,” Orlovoski said.

Through HOME center, a nonprofit working with Hays County, Orlovoski has been able to get emergency money for housing.

“It did come through,” he said.

He has to reapply for the rental assistance every 30 days, and now worries about losing that help. This is a concern, due to the possibility of Hays County having to give back $650,000 unspent dollars of its allocated $6.9 million from the federal government.

Federal data shows Hays County had only given out 3% of its money by the Sept. 30 deadline to distribute funding.

Hannah Durrance, a case manager with HOME Center, described the problem.

“The county and city have these funds that they have to figure out how to disperse, and they don’t have the manpower, they don’t have the staff, they don’t have what they need already in place to disperse that level of funding and take in that many applications at one time,” she said.

The county said bids from outside contractors who they were looking to hire to manage the funds exceeded what the feds would allow the county to spend on administrative fees. So, Hays County had to build a program from the ground up.

“While other counties were able to allocate some of those funds to other agencies that would be able to provide rental assistance, we did not have those types of programs already in place,” Durrance said.

Durrance said HOME Center isn’t funded, creating a strain on the nonprofit trying to assist the county in managing cases.

Hays County Communications Manager Kimberly Hilsenbeck told KXAN, “We had to ramp up, hire people, get equipment, build the ticket system, do outreach, etc.”

According to Hilsenbeck, they’ve created 1,227 user accounts, started nearly 700 work tickets, with about half of those active. Hilsenbeck said $307,630 tickets were paid out through Nov. 12, helping out 73 households so far.

Hays County continues its outreach, according to Hilsenbeck, with events at apartment complexes and libraries.

Hilsenbeck said the county’s auditors did keep track of deadlines it needed to meet, as far as when certain percentages of the funding needed to be distributed. Hays County did submit a program improvement form to the federal government to help secure its nearly $5 million it still has yet to distribute.

“The initial guidance stated the funds needed to be spent by December 2022 with a spending plan submitted by September 2022,” Hilsenbeck said.

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