The Dallas emergency coronavirus housing assistance program benefited some parts of the city more than others.
At a time when "equity" is the word of choice among city leaders, distribution of the special assistance program left City Council District 5 in the Pleasant Grove area with 0% of the money.
“That's the only district that's 0% and that's extremely concerning to me because I know there's a need out here. And so, that's why I'm asking those questions about marketing,” District 5 City Council Member Jaime Resendez said.
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District 5 is predominately Hispanic in a city where Hispanic or Latino people make up 41.7% of the population, according to US Census data. The Hispanic community has been hard hit by job loss and illness from coronavirus along with African American neighborhoods.
“The majority of the city of Dallas are Black and brown people,” councilman Casey Thomas said. “We have been living with our head in the sand because people have been afraid to speak the truth. And those of us who are commissioned to do something about it, we need to do something about it.”
With $13.7 million assembled from several pots of federal money, the emergency housing assistance program was developed quickly at city hall for people unable to make rent or mortgage payments because of coronavirus job loss. The plan was to provide up to $1,500 a month for three months to eligible recipients.
A website for the "first come first served" program opened May 4 and was overwhelmed with applicants.
“It gives everyone an equal opportunity to apply. At the same time, it doesn’t necessarily ensure that the funds be provided in the most equitable manner,” said Dallas Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization Director David Noguera.
In a briefing Monday, a city council committee was told that 10,000 people applied in the first two days, but there was only money enough for 1,500. Around 2,500 were deemed ineligible for one reason or another. Around 6,000 remain on a waiting list.
“I’m just shocked about District 5 because I’ve got to believe there’s a lot of potential to deploy funds there,” councilman Lee Kleinman said.
Officials said some applicants were excluded because of a restriction on the use of federal money.
“The first program launched in May required that every person in the household had to be a U.S. citizen,” said Catherine Cuellar, Dallas communications, outreach and marketing director.
A $1 million piece of the program has been given to three nonprofit groups: The United Way, Jubilee Park & Community Center and the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas.
“They will be able to reach people that the first programs did not,” Cuellar said.
The nonprofit groups have no citizenship restrictions for recipients. Pleasant Grove may still get some of the money.
Officials said they expected many clients may not use their full allocation, so additional people from the waiting list could be served.
“Everything that we do and how we do it needs to be from a racial equity perspective,” Thomas said. “We have to make a priority of how we promote and communicate and market what we do with communities of color.”
Dallas officials also hope there will be additional coronavirus relief money in the future from the federal government.
Dallas County has a separate Covid-19 housing assistance program for people who live outside the City of Dallas.