Travis County to temporarily close rental assistance portal — here’s why

Travis County
Pride flag-raising ceremony at Travis County building

FILE — The Travis County Government building June 29, 2021. (Frank Martinez/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the City of Austin and state of Texas were forced to close their Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) portals because of the number of applicants, Travis County will have to temporarily close its portal too.

“The number of applications that we have seen by way of increase has created this concern,” county executive, Sherri Fleming, said before Travis County Commissioners Tuesday. She said county staff believe the current demand will overwhelm ERAP staff capacity and requests will exceed current funding.

Fleming and her staff brought forward two options before commissioners: close the portal almost immediately or at the end of the year — and then reevaluate as they learn more from the U.S. Treasury and as they analyze current applications. Commissioners chose the former which means the portal will close within the next one to two weeks.

“From a historical perspective, during my tenure here at the county, I cannot report to you that a commissioners court has halted a systems,” Fleming said. “I certainly appreciate and the team appreciates the difficulty in having these discussions with you.”

The portal could be reopened if Travis County receives additional money, which they’ve applied for.

The U.S. treasury laid out expectations for governments that received money through ERAP earlier this year. Texas cities and counties that were not able to distribute at least 30% of their funding by the end of September might have to give some back.

That money will be reallocated to governments who got at least 65% of their funding out the door by the end of September. Travis County is one of the governments that could request additional money, which it did a couple weeks ago at $7.6 million.

Fleming said they have not heard back from the treasury on whether they will get the money they requested, or when they will get it. If the request is not fulfilled, there is a shortage of at least $4 million with just the current ERAP applications.

“Right now our portal remains open, so we are still accepting applications so what I have shared with you is an estimate of the shortfall at this point,” Fleming said.

Fleming said even in a non-pandemic year, they see a dramatic increase in rental assistance applications during the month of December, which is an additional concern.

“I would go ahead and tell the public, you know, we don’t have any more money at this point and work through the cases we have and see how far we get through that,” Commissioner Ann Howard said. “If we get more money, we open the program back up.”

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