Billion-dollar Texas rental assistance program off to a bumpy start

Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 6:50 PM CDT
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KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) - As of the end of March, out of about 72,000 applications for rental assistance submitted to the Texas Rent Relief Program, only 250 payments had been granted, according to a new report.

The $1.3 billion program administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) started accepting applications in February.

“The state hasn’t really shown up,” said Christina Rosales, a deputy director of the housing nonprofit Texas Housers.

The report prepared by staff members of the House Committee on Urban Affairs found that the program hit several snags over the last two months.

Complications from the February winter storm significantly reduced the number of phone operators who were supposed to help tenants fill out online applications, according to the report.

Then, there were a series of problems with the software system supplied by the consulting firm Horne LLP, which was working with the TDHCA to run the program.

Problems included “inability to enter phone numbers, unanswered phone calls and the inability to check the status of an application,” according to the report.

The report found that the software issues forced the department to bring on three to four times the number of workers it originally hired to fix the problem.

“The state needs to understand that people are showing up to eviction court, and the landlords don’t have faith, and tenants are being evicted because they can’t catch up on rent and because the state can’t make good on its promise,” Rosales told KWTX.

“I don’t blame landlords for being impatient,” she said.

Killeen resident Twila Cook was evicted on Monday after missing her rent payments in December and January.

She said she had tried to look into the Texas Rent Relief Program but could not gather the documents she needed.

“I hope to God if I’m ever in a situation and it’s reversed, I hope to God I have a lot more humanity toward the person than what I seem to have been shown from them today,” Cook told KWTX.

She said she will try to take advantage of the rental assistance program in the coming days.

“I’ve got a 1-year-old grandson — well 17-month-old grandson — and we’re going to be sleeping on the streets,” she said.

Last week, state lawmakers grilled the executive director of the TDHCA on why there have been so many delays in distributing the funds.

He said that the issues are being fixed and that the department has added hundreds of staff members to respond to the backlog in applications, though many tenants might have to apply for aid again.

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