“Texas is an example of how programs improve when administrators are willing to learn and adapt to deficiencies in design and implementation,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Coalition for Housing of Low Income. “To their credit, the program administrators acknowledged that the initial design of the program did not work and used lessons from their mistakes to correct and improve the course.”
The extreme disparity in the provision of rental assistance highlights the great challenge facing the Biden administration in pressuring governors and mayors to tighten protections for tenants after the Supreme Court blocked the nationwide eviction ban . Even Texas at the end of July still had hundreds of millions of dollars unspent.
The White House has tried to portray Texas as a rental aid success story, even when President Joe Biden clashes with state Republican leaders over his moves to ease Covid-19 guarantees, impose new voting restrictions and enacting a near-total abortion ban.
Government officials in recent weeks have tried to show how Texas has used the data and contracted with community nonprofits to reach tenants, while trying to encourage states like New York to cut red tape. and speed up the help application process.
Aid distribution efforts have grown more urgently in the wake of the August 26 Supreme Court decision to block the federal eviction ban.
Although this week New York extended its ban until mid-January, evictions may continue in most states, including Texas. About 3.5 million tenants across the country said they were “very” or “a little” likely to face eviction in the next two months in a U.S. Census Bureau survey in early August. Goldman Sachs economists estimate that tenants owe between $ 12 billion and $ 17 billion in subsequent rent.
Housing advocates, affordable housing providers, and local housing officials point to several reasons for the unevenness between Texas and New York, two of the most populous states.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was able to distribute the funds without waiting for approval from the state legislature, for example. New York, which required the signature of state lawmakers, began accepting applications for rental assistance on June 1, four months after Texas and other states had launched their programs.
Texas cities and counties have also established their own rental assistance platforms, while major New York City locations, including New York City, have been deferred to the state.
The joint program of Houston and Harris County, which surrounds it, has tried to target troubled tenants by analyzing data to identify which neighborhoods should need help but are not looking for it.
Housing advocates say Texas officials have also been proactive in asking for help from affordable homeowners and housing groups, achieving widespread acquisition of the process.
“Initially, when they got it, there were some challenges,” said Chris Akbari, president of Texas Affordable Housing Provider Affiliation, who cited the first technical issues. “But they stayed committed and expanded the set of technology vendors.”
Akbari’s company, Itex Property Management, is headquartered in Texas, but has properties in Louisiana, Arkansas and Colorado. He said there are differences when it comes to navigating the rental aid process from one state to another.
“It’s amazing to see how much Texas programming is more advanced than in other states,” Akbari said. “It has been a very good and coordinated effort so that everyone knows how and what to do, when to apply, how the process works. Other states, it’s not so clear. “
The Department of Finance has highlighted San Antonio for hiring with a local health collaboration that works with 20 grassroots nonprofit organizations. San Antonio had distributed 92 percent of its initial federal allocation by the end of July.
Edward Gonzales, deputy director of the San Antonio Department of Neighborhood and Housing Services, said, “We wanted people to go into the pockets of the community that don’t normally apply for these government programs, similar to the pockets where people is not vaccinated. “
“The reality is that some tenants don’t trust the government,” said Melody Barr, Houston’s deputy director of utilities. “So our non-profit suppliers and our field agencies are the ones spreading the message.”
Texas is not the only red or purple state that will efficiently disburse rental aid.
Virginia had spent more than half of its initial allocation by the end of July, while Alaska had spent about a third. Some blue jurisdictions have also been efficient: the District of Columbia, for example, had spent just under half of its first round of funding, while Massachusetts had spent about a third.
The New York rental assistance program was one of the slowest in the country to begin. After a lengthy debate, the state legislature passed it in an April budget bill. Treasury signed in May and the state began accepting applications in June.
But it wasn’t just a slow start that created headaches. Organizers and advocates for housing say the main stakeholders were excluded from the program design process and that it has been affected by technical issues.
“The lack of coordination meant that when they started the program, there were issues that I think the owners might have anticipated and encouraged them to change the program before it was launched,” said Brendan Cheney, director of policy for the New York Housing Conference, an affordable housing group. “The same goes for advocates and suppliers.”
The lag has infuriated policymakers in Washington. Thirteen House Democrats representing New York warned Hochul in an Aug. 28 letter of a “litany of problems with the program’s deployment and execution.”
An aide to a Democrat in the House said, “At the time, he spent a lot of time in New York State, with Governor Cuomo; I don’t think his team was paying attention to it; they were trying to survive.”
“I worked very hard to get $ 2 billion in New York to help tenants pay rent when they lost their jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference Wednesday. “But that money, New York didn’t distribute very well.”
The New York Office of Temporary Assistance and Disability said the state accelerated the delivery of rental grants in August and disbursed about $ 300 million. Michael Hein, the department’s commissioner, told state lawmakers at an Aug. 19 hearing that when the money that has been provisionally approved for households was taken into account, New York has met the threshold to prevent the Treasure fundraiser. Treasury has not yet published data for August.
When asked about criticism of the deployment of aid, the department’s spokesman, Anthony Farmer, said officials “continue to encourage all eligible tenants and their landlords to apply for this program.”
Hochul has given program critics new hope. On his first day in office, he ordered a “quick review” of the workforce of the rental assistance program, reassigned hired staff to work only with landlords to complete pending applications, and directed the state to invest. an additional $ 1 million in marketing and outreach efforts.
“Before there were all these issues with the program and I think we are now more optimistic about how it will proceed,” Cheney said. “We are optimistic because it is an important priority of the new governor.”