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County makes decisions on ERA program after setback, nearly $800K funding loss
After an unsuccessful effort to solicit an outside firm to manage the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program, the Hays County Commissioners Court voted to handle the program in-house by hiring a program manager and several staff members.
The program was first approved and implemented by the county commissioners in July 2021 for the purpose of helping with rental, utility and late fee assistance for applicants in the county who’ve had difficulty paying rent due to the pandemic and who meet the program criteria.
During Tuesday's commissioners court meeting, several Hays County residents spoke up about the program.
“Due to lack of staffing, they have not been able to help me in a timely manner,” said Hays County resident Griselda Vasquez, who explained that after several application attempts, she still heard nothing and was eventually evicted from her home.
With the help of the H.O.M.E. Center, Vasquez and her family were able to relocate to a motel room. Eventually, after returning several times to the program offices to seek help, Vasquez was able to voice her concerns and get her application processed.
In January, the appointed ERA program manager resigned, with the remainder of the county staff moving forward with the program.
“Unfortunately, not everybody has that opportunity, not everybody has the will and strength to be here every day and get the help that they need,” Vasquez said. “The need is here, the need is out here. Unfortunately, there’s not enough staff to help them.”
The ERA program is funded by a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Treasury with the county receiving $6.9 million. Since the program rollout, more than 383 cases have been processed and more than $844,000 has been paid to landlords, hotels and utility companies.
Hays County lost $772,791 of ERA 1 grant funding when the U.S. Treasury reallocated the funds because Hays County’s program didn’t meet the targeted milestone for distribution.
According to the program website, “As of now, the county’s program has more than $4.5 million remaining to assist those impacted by COVID-19 in terms of housing and utility payments.”
With the approval of a manager and staff, the commissioners are hoping this will assist in efficiently getting the funds out to those within the county who need it in a timely manner.
“We have to have a workable program, it’s obvious that it’s not working and I sincerely applaud Commissioner [Debbie] Ingalsbe and I’m excited to work with her to try and bring somebody in here that can actually get the job done because that’s what we want in the community,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Walt Smith.
For program details such as applicant eligibility and priority guidelines, visit the ERA Program website at hayscountytx.com/emergency-rental-assistance-program/.