The city of Dallas will accept applications beginning Monday for $13.7 million in rental and mortgage assistance to help people who face eviction or foreclosure because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another $5 million is set aside for small business grants and loans.
The city urged people to apply online when the portal opened at 9 a.m., but soon after they began receiving reports of people having trouble accessing the website.
For those without internet access, screening can be done over the phone at 469-749-6500, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The city warned callers may experience long hold times or busy signals.
The money comes from grants and the CARES Act -- the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress. The funds are meant to help people who have lost their jobs or income during the pandemic.
“I'm overwhelmed with something every week,” said Jenova Hopson of Dallas.
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The single mother still has a job, but said her hours have been cut. Hopson said she’s worked out an agreement with her electric provider to keep the lights on. Rent, she said, would be a struggle.
“I've been homeless before,” Hopson said. “I refuse to -- it would be the biggest letdown of my life to go back like that.”
“The impact on individuals, whether they are renters, mortgage holders, small business owners are taking a big hit,” said Dr. Eric Anthony Johnson, the chief of Economic Development and Neighborhood Services for the city of Dallas. “You can’t have economic recovery without housing stability.”
Johnson said around 90 city staff members from various departments would serve as caseworkers, sorting through applications for assistance and following up with households. Each household may receive up to $1,500 a month – paid directly to the landlord or lender.
The length of assistance will depend on need and which programs a household qualifies for, as some of the funding comes from federal grants.
Applications will be processed on a first come, first served basis and the city anticipates it would take up to four weeks before the payment is delivered.
“This is unprecedented, uncharted territory,” Johnson said. “There's other cities starting to look at this, all with this idea of how can we provide some temporary stabilization while we can start to build back up?”
Households that have already received CARES Act money from another agency aren’t eligible and families living in homes owned by immediate family members cannot qualify.
“We know that there is stimulus money that’s coming in the form of checks, we know there are unemployment benefits,” Johnson said. “So, what we are trying to do at the city of Dallas is provide some support. We know we can’t help everybody; we are trying to help layer the resources that are out there.”
The resources will extend to some of Dallas’ small businesses.
Small business relief program applications will also open on Monday at 9 a.m. The businesses must show a 25% or more loss of revenue because of the pandemic. Only businesses with annual revenue of under $1.5 million can apply.
The applications will be taken from May 4-11 and the city plans to use a lottery system to select the businesses.
“You’re going to go into the pot and depending on how you measure up, in terms of the qualifications required for the program, you will have a shot just like anybody else. That’s how we designed it,” Johnson said.
The effort to keep individuals and businesses afloat comes as the pandemic’s accompanying economic crisis hits Texans.
Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union, said she expected the funding to run out fast.
“That’s the fear,” Rollins said. “That it's not going help everybody who really needs the help to get through this.”
The Texas Tenants' Union sent letters to the Texas Congressional delegation to urge Congress to pass additional funding for rental help in the next COVID-19 relief package – pointing to the majority of extremely low income renters who are already funneling more than half of their income toward housing.
The letter states, in part, “Households with members with a disability make up nearly 25% of those households. Additionally, more than 25,000 Texans are homeless, and there’s a shortage of nearly 9,000 beds. The COVID crisis will cause these numbers to increase.”
“I’m concerned it’s not going to go far enough. We’re in unknown territory, we don’t really know how long this is going to last,” Rollins said.