Alazán-Apache Courts. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The City of San Antonio and Bexar County will receive a boost of more than $14 million for affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs as part of a federal support package aimed at keeping vulnerable individuals afloat during the pandemic.

The money will be allocated through three federal programs that provide subsidies for homeownership, housing rehabilitation, economic development projects, emergency shelters, rapid re-housing, homelessness prevention, and services to low-income individuals medically diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and their families.

“Many people in our community are struggling to keep up with the cost of housing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) in a news release. “This funding will help improve housing opportunities and assist with homelessness prevention in our community.”

Cuellar, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, worked with other members of San Antonio’s congressional delegation to secure these funds, he said.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program will distribute $7,707,015 to the City and $1,407,897 to Bexar County. The Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program will distribute $3,902,645 to the City and $695,845 to the County. The Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) will distribute $297,456 to the City.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act nationally allocated $5 billion to CDBG, $4 billion for ESG, and $65 million for HOPWA.

On the ground, this funding can provide rent and mortgage help and help build emergency shelters if necessary.

The federal government lifted some restrictions around what CDBG funding can be used for, said Jeff Coyle, the City’s Government and Public Affairs director. “So that’s very beneficial to us.”

Conversations about how exactly this funding will be used are ongoing, said Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger told City Council during a briefing on the City’s response to COVID-19.

“We want to use the vast majority of federal dollars to keep people in their homes,” Bridger said.

HUD is working with localities to ensure swift allocation of the funding, a Cuellar spokeswoman said.

Last month, Bexar County temporarily suspended evictions and foreclosures through April 16 in an effort to keep residents in their homes.

In February, the City’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department received about 50 calls per week seeking financial assistance. In March, that call volume increased by roughly 3,700 percent with 2,000 calls per week, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said.

“We expect those calls to go up,” Houston said.

There is less than $500,000 left in the City’s $1 million risk mitigation fund that provides rental and mortgage assistance – among other housing-related programs – for residents who make the area median income (AMI) or below or have recently lost their job. The AMI for a family of four in the San Antonio region is $71,000. For an individual, it’s $49,700.

“CDBG funds from the CARES Act could be used for the Short-Term Emergency Housing Assistance Program currently delivered by the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department,” NHSD Director Veronica Soto said in an email. “This program is different from the Risk Mitigation Fund as it has different eligibility but the uses are  the same.  It can be used to assist households whose incomes are at or below 80% AMI for the general purpose of preventing homelessness with emergency rent or mortgage assistance for up to three consecutive months assistance.”

There are various ways the City could bolster that fund, including shifting funding from the San Antonio Housing Trust.

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Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who is president of the Housing Trust Public Facility Corporation (PFC), said she expects the trust will likely vote to contribute $500,000 to the risk mitigation fund on Monday. Typically, the PFC’s budget is used to subsidize affordable housing projects.

The San Antonio Apartment Association has asked its members to temporarily reduce rents by 25 percent and waive fees during this public health crisis, Houston said, but that program is voluntary and it was unclear how many landlords are doing so.

There could be a “slew of folks who are evicted” when that moratorium lifts, City Manager Erik Walsh said, but noted that Council could mitigate those numbers with new, mandatory rules and funding.

“We’re not going to leave anyone behind,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com