Gov. Greg Abbott announced yesterday that he and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs have taken initial action to unlock $11 million of previously-programmed federal funds to help some tenants across the state impacted by COVID-19 cover their rent.
The governor waived several state statutes related to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) HOME Investments Partnership program in order to speed up the delivery of the funds for people in need.
Typically, HOME funds are provided to states and jurisdictions, which often work with nonprofits, to help low-income people have a path toward homeownership and to help communities meet the housing needs of low-income people, including funds set a side for tenant-based rental assistance provided through local nonprofits. According to the State Low Income Housing Plan, TDHCA estimated Texas would receive $10 million in HOME program income in 2020.
In its board meeting last week TDHCA discussed seeking waivers from HUD (as well as waiving the state requirements the governor agreed to yesterday) to reprogram a total of $11 million of its funds for disaster assistance. This is not unlike the steps the state took after Hurricane Harvey and other disasters – only this time, the disaster is expected to be statewide and much more wide-reaching. About $7 million is coming from de-obligated HOME funds and an additional $4 million is from 2019 HOME funds intended for tenant-based rental assistance. You can read more about the actions take and waivers in the TDHCA March 26, 2020 board book here (scroll to page 142).
During a disaster, quick action is essential, however, it’s important to put these actions in perspective. In Texas, there have been a reported 461,554 total jobless claims through the end of March and more than 840,000 low-income households earn wages that don’t allow them to comfortably cover their rent, spending half of their income on rent and forgoing essential nutrition, health and other necessities. The median rent in the state is $1,050.
The $11 million available would be able to give $1,000 to 11,000 Texas households to cover rent.
This relief will help a lucky few, but will be a minuscule drop in the bucket for what experts are calling an unprecedented economic downturn caused by this global pandemic.
Texans need bold action and leadership from the governor, who has the power to call a special session for the Texas legislature to begin planning how to meet the needs of Texans today. The Texas Supreme Court halted eviction proceedings through April 19. This does not prevent landlords from evicting tenants in just a few weeks and many tenants who have lost jobs will be unable to cover back-rent. Our state must prevent vulnerable people from losing their homes through no fault of their own and falling hopelessly into debt.
This is a choice the governor can make today: to make a plan now to use Rainy Day funds and other legislative actions to take care of Texans at a critical time before our communities unravel in the coming months.