Why the White House loves the Texas renter rescue

“Texas is an example of how programs improve when administrators are willing to learn from and adapt to flaws in design and implementation,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The administrators of the program realized that the initial program design did not work and learned the lessons from their mistakes to correct and improve the course.”

The extreme inequality in rental aid delivery underscores the enormous challenge the von Biden government faces in pressuring governors and mayors to strengthen protections for renters after the Supreme Court blocked the nationwide eviction ban. Even Texas still had hundreds of millions of dollars unspent by the end of July.

The White House has attempted to present Texas as a rental aid success story even as President Joe Biden clashed with the state’s Republican leaders over their moves to relax protective measures against Covid-19, impose new voting restrictions, and impose a near-complete ban on abortion.

Administration officials have been trying for the past few weeks to highlight how Texas has used data and signed contracts with nonprofits to reach tenants while trying to encourage states like New York to cut red tape and speed up the grant application process.

Relief distribution efforts have become more urgent following the August 26 Supreme Court decision to block the federal eviction ban.

While New York extended its ban until mid-January this week, evictions are available in most states, including Texas. About 3.5 million renters across the country said they would be in a. “Very” or “rather” an eviction threatens US Census Bureau survey Recorded at the beginning of August. Goldman Sachs economists estimate that tenants owe between $ 12 billion and $ 17 billion in subsequent rents.

Housing advocates, affordable housing providers, and local housing officials point to several reasons for the gap between Texas and New York, two of the most densely populated states.

For example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was able to distribute the funds without waiting for approval from state lawmakers. New York, which required a signature by state lawmakers, began accepting rental assistance applications on June 1 – four months after Texas and other states launched their programs.

Texas cities and counties have also set up their own rental aid platforms, while key New York locations – including New York City – have moved to the state.

The Houston and surrounding Harris County’s joint program has attempted to target tenants in need through data analytics to determine which neighborhoods should need help but not seek it.

Housing advocates say Texan officials have also been proactive in seeking help from homeowners and affordable housing groups, while gaining widespread support.

“There were some challenges in the beginning when they kicked it off,” said Chris Akbari, president of the Texas Affiliation of Affordable Housing Providers, who spearheaded early technical glitches. “But they remained committed and expanded the pool of technology providers.”

Akbari’s company, Itex Property Management, is based in Texas but has properties in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Colorado. He said there are differences when it comes to navigating the rental assistance process from state to state.

“It’s amazing to see how much more advanced the Texas program is than any other state,” said Akbari. “It was just a very good, coordinated effort so that everyone knows how and what to do, when to apply, how the process works. In other states it’s just not that clear. “

The tax office highlighted San Antonio for its contract with a local health organization that works with 20 grassroots nonprofits. San Antonio had distributed 92 percent of its initial federal allocation by the end of July.

Edward Gonzales, assistant director of the San Antonio Department of Neighborhood and Housing, said, “We wanted people to go to areas of the community that don’t normally apply for these government programs, similar to the pockets people don’t be vaccinated. “

“The reality is that some renters don’t trust the government,” said Melody Barr, assistant assistant director of public services in Houston. “So it’s our non-profit providers and our local agencies that get the message across.”

Texas isn’t the only red or purple state that pays rental subsidies efficiently.

Virginia had issued more than half of its original allotment by the end of July, while Alaska had issued about a third. Some blue jurisdictions were also 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.

New York’s rental assistance program was one of the slowest in the country to get off the ground. After a lengthy debate, the state parliament approved it in a draft budget in April. The Treasury Department signed in May and the state accepted applications in June.

But it wasn’t just a slow start that was causing a headache. Organizers and housing advocates say key stakeholders have been excluded from the process of designing the program and that it has been plagued by technical glitches.

“The lack of coordination resulted in problems at the start of the program that I think property owners could have foreseen and they encouraged them to change the program before it started,” said Brendan Cheney, Policy Director at the New York Housing Conference. an affordable group of apartments. “The same goes for lawyers and vendors.”

The delay enraged Washington politicians. Thirteen House Democrats representing New York warned Hochul in a letter dated August 28th a “litany of problems with rollout and execution” of the program.

An adviser to a House Democrat said, “New York State was busy at the time with Governor Cuomo – I don’t think his team was paying attention; they tried to survive. “

“I worked very hard to raise New York $ 2 billion to help tenants pay their rents when they lost their jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference on Wednesday. “But New York didn’t distribute that money very well.”

The New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance said the state increased rental aid provision and disbursed nearly $ 300 million in August. Michael Hein, the department’s commissioner, told state lawmakers at a hearing on Aug. 19 that, taking into account funds tentatively approved for budgets, New York has hit the threshold to avoid the Treasury Department’s withdrawal of funds. The Treasury Department has not yet released any data for August.

When asked about criticism of the introduction of the aid, Department spokesman Anthony Farmer said officials “continue to encourage all eligible tenants and their landlords to apply for this program.”

Hochul has given critics of the program new hope. On her first day in office, she ordered a “quick review” of the rental assistance program’s workflow, hired contractors to work exclusively with landlords to complete pending applications, and directed the state to allocate an additional $ 1 million in marketing and public relations invest.

“All of these problems with the program have been around before and I think we are more optimistic about how things will go next,” said Cheney. “We’re optimistic because it’s one of the new governor’s top priorities.”

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