Isaiah Alonzo | Special to the Heron
Eviction court in Bexar County resumes later in June.
Housing relief programs, which offer up to $3,500 in rental or mortgage assistance, are being pushed locally as eviction courts get ready to resume on Monday.
Several judges are attaching information about the city and county rental assistance programs to mailed-out notices to appear in court. Should they have to appear in court, city and county representatives will be present to inform renters about their rights and options. Judges and local officials also hope renters and landlords can resolve disputes before they come to court.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, the city and county have distributed roughly $22 million in housing and cost of living assistance to area residents who have lost their jobs or had wages reduced, in an effort to reduce displacement and homelessness.
“The goal is to help the tenants that are being evicted for nonpayment of rent to get access to the rental assistance,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said via email.
Three judges interviewed said they expect eviction lawsuits to begin to spike, but they’re hopeful some of the mitigation measures, talking specifically about the city and county dollars reserved for rental assistance, while quell the increase. They’re also hearing anecdotal evidence that landlords are working with tenants on payment plans and other forms of rent relief.
“They have been very diligent to work with tenants to try to avoid coming to court,” Justice of the Peace Rogelio Lopez, Precinct 4, said. “In fact with people willing to work out payment arrangements, they were willing to discount rent.”
Local and state moratoriums on eviction proceedings expired last month, and justices of the peace now must get through a backlog of cases that have been piled up before they suspended local hearings in mid March.
One thing to note: in San Antonio, city officials estimate 50% of rental properties— about 130,000—are protected from eviction under the CARES Act through July 24, because those properties received federal funding.
Precinct 2, which covers roughly the west and northwest sides of San Antonio, will be the first to resume proceedings on June 15. Precinct 4 resumes June 16, Precinct 3 June 22. It’s unknown when Precinct 1 will resume.
When they do resume, standard Covid-19 safety measures are expected to be in place, including social distancing and face mask requirements, at the county’s four justice of the peace courtrooms. Some dockets are expected to be a quarter the size of normal loads. One judge will hear cases via Zoom, with judge, landlord and defendant in different rooms while at the precinct.
“We’re taking every precaution,” Lopez said.
Relief for Renters
Since the City Council approved $25 million toward rental and mortgage assistance, and other cost of living expenses, in late April, $7.7 remains available, Houston — the assistant city manager — said during a recent city Covid-19 briefing. She also said the council is set to allocate another $25 million from the latest round of federal coronavirus relief funding at today’s City Council meeting.
The program is set to expire July 31, but Houston expects the council to extend it.
In March, the San Antonio Apartment Association began asking its members to forgive 25% of rent for tenants who receive relief from the city’s program.
The program, originally known as the risk mitigation fund, was approved in May 2019 as a preventative measure against displacement due to gentrification. When Covid-19 hit, the initiative took on a whole new importance when unemployment spiked. Households who make less than the area median income (AMI), which is $72,000 for a family of four, are eligible for the city and county’s programs.
If approved for the city’s program, households are eligible for up to $3,500 in rental or mortgage assistance, or $1,500 for utilities, for people making less than 80% AMI. For households making between 80% and 100% AMI, the payouts are less.
The program also offers assistance for groceries and gas.
» To apply for the City of San Antonio’s emergency housing assistance program, click here or call 210-207-5910 or 311. You can also call the Guadalupe Community Center at 210-226-6178.
More info on the housing assistance program:
» To ask about Bexar County’s temporary rental assistance measure, call 210-940-1180.
» Find out if your property is protected from eviction under the CARES Act by calling 210-207-5910.
» To ask about the city’s right to counsel program, call 210-212-3702.
» Call the St. Mary’s University hotline at 210-570-6135 if you need legal advice.
» Browse other housing resources
Ben Olivo is editor of the San Antonio Heron, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to informing its readers about the changes to downtown and the surrounding communities.
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.