‘I really need the help’: Rental assistance funding could be shuffled around in Texas

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Money allocated to help Americans struggling to pay rent because of the pandemic is likely to be shuffled among Texas counties and cities after some failed to distribute the help quickly enough.

The U.S. treasury laid out expectations for governments that received money through the Emergency Rental Assistance program (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.

Of the 36 cities or counties in Texas listed on the treasury’s latest ERAP report, 16 did not meet the requirement of 30% distribution. The planning and budget office at Travis County reported the amount potentially available to be reallocated in Texas is roughly $155.46 million; though in a memorandum before Travis County commissioners, staff explained that number may fluctuate as the treasury posts updates.

The treasury will also be increasing the requirement threshold by 5% each month, which will mean more counties could lose funding down the road.

Local governments that have given out at least 65% of their money can request the unused funds in their state be redirected to them to continue helping residents.

In Central Texas, both the City of Austin and Travis County have distributed more than 65% of the money given to them and are expected to request additional funding. The latest report from the treasury shows on Sept. 30, Hays County had only distributed 3% of its funding.

“We are averaging about $750,000 a week in rental assistance payments going out,” Sherri Fleming, Travis County executive for health and human services, told county commissioners during court Tuesday. 

LaChrisha Brown says she was one of the people who previously received ERAP funding from Travis County. She told KXAN applying for the help and getting approved was easy and immediate, but even with the money they were able to get to her, she’s still $5,000 in rent debt as a result of late fees and missed payments throughout the pandemic.

“I’m facing homelessness, again. I was homeless two years ago before I moved to these apartments and now I’m back in the same situation,” Brown said. She is now turning to other local resources like the Catholic Charities of Central Texas.

For people living in more rural parts of Texas, ERAP funding had to be requested through the state itself, which has now closed its application portal, because its maxed out on applicants. As of the latest treasury report, Texas has reportedly distributed more than 70% of its allocated ERAP funding.

Justin Allen, who lives in Bastrop, says he applied for help through the state’s program months ago but still hasn’t gotten any help.

“I’ve tried emailing them, phone calls, all kinds of different ways of contacting them,” Allen said. “I’m on a fixed income, so I really need this, I really need the help.”

Allen said, like Brown, he will likely have to turn to other local programs to avoid eviction.

Travis County is still accepting applications for ERAP money. You can find additional resources for paying your bills on the City of Austin’s website. You can also apply for benefits through Texas Health and Human Services.

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