HAYS COUNTY, Texas — Evictions in major Texas cities are trending up as those cities struggle to distribute rental assistance that would keep people in their homes.
The U.S. Department of Treasury is recouping money from local emergency rent relief programs that have failed to distribute at least 30% of funding.
Evictionlab.org numbers show those very programs are in cities were evictions are on the rise.
More than a dozen Texas counties and cities are returning rent relief funds for failing to give them out fast enough. Nearly half of these “underperforming” programs have spent less than 10% of their million-dollar budgets. Some say this is because there isn’t a need, but caseworkers helping Texans stay housed says it’s because of a lack of resources.
Hannah Durrance is one of those caseworkers. The president of Home Care, a rehousing program, works out of a motel lobby in San Marcos. She estimates she’s working about 50 cases on her own.
“We’re not getting support from the city or county to fund this program and we’re having to do all this work ourselves,” Durrance said.
These cases are people seeking rent relief or emergency housing. One of those cases is Brenda Belt, who landed on the streets after company layoffs due to COVID-19.
“This the first time it’s ever happened to me. I’ve always worked and paid my bills,” Belt said.
Durrance’s heavy workload is because she volunteers for Hays County Emergency Rent Assistance Program. Hays County’s ERA has spent just 3% of nearly $7 million. It is one of 16 local ERA’s that have been “slow” to roll out funding.
Durance says the county is understaffed and underqualified, which is why they enlisted the help of nonprofits to speed up the process.
The county does not have enough staff to manage this program,” she said. “Just in the motel program there are over 50 individuals and it’s taking over a month for the payments to be made on 11 of those cases.”
Spectrum News 1 reached out to Hays County. County spokespeople declined an on-camera interview but provided some numbers. The ERA program has about 350 active cases with four full-time employees.
“Most of them are college aged students who are being hired as caseworkers versus someone who has a lot of experience in case management,” Durrance said.
A spokesperson says because of the 10% cap on administrative costs, they could not afford to outsource the program to an experienced company or hire additional staff. A staff member confirmed the employees are recent college graduates.
Since the program's start in July and through Nov. 12, it has distributed more than $300,000 and helped at least 73 households.
The Texas Rent Relief dashboard shows 1,797 households received a total of $10,814,255.
TRR stopped taking applications at the beginning of November because it exhausted its funds.
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra provided the following statement:
“Additionally, the ERA Team has implemented additional outreach efforts including public events to mass-assist individuals that need help completing their application, apartment complex meetings to identify mass numbers within complexes that need assistance and rehousing programs to establish housing stability.”
Durrance says this partnership is leaving nonprofits with most of the responsibility. She says she’s working overtime to get people like Belt housing.
Belt says she can’t work for health reasons. She’s been trying to get housing since she moved her from Kentucky about a year ago.
“I don’t know what I’d do, I’d probably die out on the street in the shape I’m in,” she said.
So while the county’s financial struggles are taking a toll on volunteers, Durrance says at-risk renters like Belt have the most to lose if the county loses its funding.
“If this program ended there would be no place for them, they would be homeless,” Durrance said.
The Hays County spokesperson says they have partnerships with other nonprofits and have not heard of any problems. She says the program delays are also because of applicant errors and other restrictions.
Spectrum News 1 also reached out to the U.S. Department of Treasury to find out how much money it recouped and which local ERA programs.
We have yet to receive a reply.