Renters Denied Assistance as Protections Near End, Eviction Worries Mount

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For many, Dec. 1 means rent is due. But millions of Texans continue to struggle to make ends meet.

Advocates for renters are especially worried about the number of renters who have not received financial aid despite millions of dollars available and as federal protections are set to expire at the end of December.

Despite NBC 5 viewers’ generous donations after hearing SheQuice Roberts’ story in August, the mother of two lost her Dallas apartment.

“[The donations were] enough to pay my August rent, but I still wasn’t working because of COVID so I ended up leaving,” Roberts said.

She has started working once again, driving school busses in Forney. Roberts said she and her kids are staying with a friend.

Like many renters, Roberts applied for renters’ assistance in an effort to remain in her apartment.

She said she found out about two months later that the program she applied for ran out of money.

There is still other funding available for struggling renters.

Communities like Dallas still have millions in federal aid that need to be distributed by the end of the year or the funding will be returned to the federal government.

Attorney Mark Melton with Dallas Evictions 2020 cautioned a large percentage of applicants have run into problems when applying for various programs across Dallas-Fort Worth.

Applicants, he said, are often turned down because they do not live in the community they are seeking help from or they don’t have documents on hand.

“The problem with these programs is they come with a lot of strings from the federal government,” Melton said. “A lot of money comes through HUD [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and so there’s a lot of documentation requirements you’ve got to provide to get the money and for a lot of people that’s difficult to do.”

Melton said retrieving a check stub online can prove to be an impossible task for many no longer employed.

“If you’re released [from your job], you don’t have access to that website anymore so it’s really difficult to get that documentation,” he said.

Ian Mattingly of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas said various charities working with the city to distribute funding to those most in need have reported 75% of those applying are not being approved for funding. The main reasons, again, being people determined "ineligible," mostly due to being "non-responsive" and because they live outside city limits.

Both Melton and Roberts noted the infrastructure in place for each program’s application process is unnecessarily cumbersome.  

“We’re not even being notified of who has what or how to properly apply for it and how to follow up with it. There’s no way to call and check on your application,” Roberts said. “It’s like they’re dangling a carrot in your face, 'Hey, here’s the money but we’re not going to tell you how to get it, to help yourself out.' I think it’s really sad.”

Melton pointed out each application takes several hours to verify. Additional case workers would help speed up the process, he added.

“It takes more time than you would think to manage a case like this because a lot of these people don’t have the documents prepared so you’ve really got to hand-hold them to get these applications completed which takes a lot of man hours to do,” he said.

Melton’s advice for renters struggling to pay: keep searching for help in your city or county.

Many people facing eviction hearings do not show up to court, he said, when they actually qualify for eviction protection under the CDC order, which is set to end Dec. 31.

“If you meet qualifications, you should print off a copy of the CDC declaration and give it to your landlord. If you qualify, that will stop the eviction process until January,” he said.

And it is the month of January that Melton and other advocates are most concerned about.

“Now is the time to be calling your congressman and your senator to encourage them to actually do something in Washington because short of federal intervention, we’re going to see a massive wave of evictions in the early part of next year and it’s going to bring a lot of hurt to a lot of people,” he said. “The only viable solution is that the federal government has to pass a massive rent assistance program and it’s got to have fewer strings attached. It’s got to make the administration process easier and it’s got to include sufficient funding to go out and hire temp caseworkers to actually make sure these files are complete and get the money in the right place.”

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