The City’s $51.7 million housing assistance program, established by the City in April and recently increased with federal coronavirus relief funds, has streamlined its application and distribution process, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said Monday, resulting in housing assistance applications being processed in half the time.

Most landlords and lenders will get paid within 15 days of receipt of a completed application, Houston said, noting that it’s not from the day the application is submitted, but rather when the City has all the necessary information from the renter or homeowner applying for help. Earlier this month, some applicants were waiting more than 30 days.

The City has processed more than 9,700 applications and about 1,700 are under review. Houston expects those to be completed in the next seven days.

While landlords are getting paid quicker, Bexar County eviction courts, which started hearing cases on June 15 after a three-month hiatus, are starting to close due to coronavirus concerns. Precincts 2 and 4 closed Monday, Precinct 1 (Place 2) will close beginning Thursday, and Precinct 3 moved all hearings online for one hour each day.

In the meantime, landlords can still file for evictions, but likely will have to wait months before judges can hear their cases – meaning tenants can legally stay in their homes. Most of the cases currently being heard were filed before the economy started shutting down in March.

City and County staff have been sending out available resources along with eviction hearing notices and have been actively engaged in hearings, connecting residents who face non-payment evictions to the housing assistance program, free attorneys, or helping them find a new place to live.

So far this month, judges have dismissed 251 eviction cases in Bexar County and 78 have been “reset,” which typically means the landlord and tenant agree to participate in the City’s housing assistance program or some alternative payment plan, Houston told Council’s Culture and Neighborhood Committee on Monday.

There were 260 judgments in favor of landlords seeking to evict tenants, though it’s unclear if those were for nonpayment of rent or because the tenant broke another lease agreement term.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who chairs the Culture and Neighborhood Committee, asked City staff to reach out to residents on the docket prior to their hearing to make sure those residents weren’t “falling through the cracks” and that they understand the assistance available to them.

While the City grapples with unprecedented need during the coronavirus pandemic, Houston said that a renters commission could have helped mobilize assistance faster.

“We definitely need a renters commission,” she said. “If we had had a renters commission in place, it would have been a great avenue for us to go and seek input.”

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Treviño filed a request for Council to establish such a commission last July, but the idea languished on the committee schedule and was heavily criticized during a landlord-dominated public meeting in February.

Councilman John Courage (D9) said he would be supportive of a commission, but wants landlords and other stakeholders fairly represented in its membership.

But Terviño has argued that landlords and real estate groups already have associations and lobbyists to protest their interests.

The City will convene another public meeting regarding the proposed renters commission in July, Houston said.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

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