As city officials scramble to find millions more dollars to help San Antonians pay rent or their mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve now included groceries, gas and the internet as living expenses the city will help cover to those who qualify.
Known as the risk mitigation program, the effort settles overdue rent or mortgage payments for those undergoing financial hardship as a means to prevent displacement via eviction or foreclosure. In one month, from the first weeks of March to April, the number of people who have asked about the program has skyrocketed from 48 to 5,319, the majority of whom don’t submit an application.
Here are the total number of inquiries the city of San Antonio has received for cost of living assistance, also known as the risk mitigation program:
» Week of March 2—48
» March 9—65
» March 16—137
» March 21—2,064
» March 28—4,164
» April 4—5,319
» To apply for housing assistance from the city, click here or call 210-207-5910.
» More info on the risk mitigation program
» Browse other housing assistance resources
Source: City of San Antonio
Those who qualify must provide documents proving hardship during this time. The average payment per month is $1,000, but some household require up to three months of assistance, the maximum timespan the program allows.
From March 17 to April 15, the city has doled out $202,000 in funding for rental and mortgage assistance to 135 families, according to city officials. The program also helps pay utilities.
Now, the city is expanding the program to help with groceries and gas, most likely with H-E-B gift cards. The amount depends on the size of the family and would be capped at $300.
While the city is fielding calls and applications, it’s also trying to push folks to apply for unemployment benefits so they receive an additional $600 from the U.S. government’s $2 trillion coronavirus economic relief plan, aka the CARES Act. Of course, that’s for those who can get through the Texas Workforce Commission.
“If they are able to do that, the chances of them returning for more assistance has decreased because they are getting this additional stimulus funding,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told the City Council on Thursday.
The city is also using the application process to assess the family’s level of food insecurity and whether domestic violence is an issue inside the household.
The city has identified $15.8 million for the total COVID-19 housing assistance response, which includes the risk mitigation program.
The majority of the funding is federal, most of which is coming from the CARES Act. The federal and local funds have similar but slightly different sets of requirements.
The area median income (AMI) for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area (Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Wilson counties) is $71,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here’s how it breaks down for lower-income households:
» 80% – $56,800
» 70% – $49,700
» 60% – $42,600
» 50% – $35,500
» 40% – $28,400
» 30% – $21,300
Editor’s note: For a complete AMI breakdown that shows other household sizes, scroll to the bottom of this article.
For example, federal funding and local funding have different area median income (AMI) requirements: families must make 100% AMI or less to qualify for local dollars, whereas at the federal level, the threshold is 80% AMI. Also, federal funding cannot be spent on undocumented immigrants, whereas the city’s risk mitigation program can. Federal funds require a lease agreement, local dollars do not.
During the council meeting Thursday, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño suggested the city dip into its reserves and pull $10 million to help bolster the risk mitigation fund.
“When the federal government is not responding to the gaps we see here locally, we’re essentially the last line of defense,” Treviño said.
The city’s risk mitigation fund has about $350,000 left from the $1 million the council allocated for the 2020 fiscal year. Officials are expecting an additional $2 million from the San Antonio Housing Trust Foundation, a nonprofit tied to the city, as well as from the San Antonio Housing Trust’s Public Facility Corporation (PFC) and Finance Corporation (FC). The city is also soliciting private donations. Smaller donations can be made by texting “HousingHelpSA” to 41444. Larger donors should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
» $7.7 million—CARES Act
» $3.5M—City’s affordable housing budget—includes Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars and city tax increment reinvestment zone dollars.
» $2.2M—reprogrammed CBDG money
» $2M—San Antonio Housing Trust Foundation, S.A. Housing Trust PFC and FC
» $350K—Current risk mitigation program budget
Source: City of San Antonio
Treviño suggests incorporating a third party, such as Catholic Charities or Merced Housing, which would represent the renter. He expressed concern that landlords may not accept the funding coming directly from the city on the tenant’s behalf. However, the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department said Friday none of the 150 new landlords that have entered the system since the outbreak have refused the assistance from the city.
City Manager Erik Walsh said he’d rather cut spending from current programs that dip into the city’s reserves.
“That’s our last line of defense,” Walsh said.
The council is expected to vote on the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program at its regularly-scheduled meeting on Thursday. The program would expire July 31.
Area median income
Here are the latest area median income (AMI) levels for the greater San Antonio area (Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Wilson counties), according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Want to know more about how AMI works? Click here.
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Clarification: An earlier version of this article excluded some of the entities contributing to the housing assistance fund. They are San Antonio Housing Trust’s Public Facility Corporation and Finance Corporation.
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