“Texas is an example of how programs improve when administrators are ready to learn and adapt to shortcomings in design and implementation,” said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive officer. leadership of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. âTo their credit, the program administrators recognized that the initial program design was not working and used the lessons of their mistakes to correct the course and improve.
The extreme disparity in the provision of rent assistance underscores the vast challenge the Biden administration faces as it presses governors and mayors to strengthen protections for tenants after the Supreme Court blocked l nationwide deportation ban. Even Texas, at the end of July, still had hundreds of millions of dollars unspent.
The White House has tried to pitch Texas as a success story on rent assistance, even as President Joe Biden clashes with Republican leaders in the state over their measures to relax Covid-19 guarantees , impose new voting restrictions and enact an almost total ban on abortion.
In recent weeks, administration officials have attempted to highlight how Texas has used data and contracted with community-based nonprofits to reach tenants, while trying to encourage states like New York to reduce red tape and speed up the process of applying for help.
Aid distribution efforts have become more urgent following the August 26 Supreme Court decision to block the federal deportation ban.
While New York City this week extended its ban until mid-January, evictions can take place in most states, including Texas. About 3.5 million renters across the country said they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to be evicted over the next two months in a US Census Bureau survey in early August. Goldman Sachs economists estimate tenants owe between $ 12 billion and $ 17 billion in rent arrears.
Housing advocates, affordable housing providers and local housing officials cite several reasons for the divide between Texas and New York, two of the most populous states.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott was able to distribute the funds without waiting for approval from the state legislature, for example. New York, which required approval from state lawmakers, began accepting applications for rental assistance on June 1 – four months after their programs began by Texas and other states.
Texas cities and counties have also created their own rental assistance platforms while major New York towns – including New York City – have ceded to the state.
The joint program run by Houston and the surrounding Harris County attempted to target troubled tenants using data analysis to identify neighborhoods that should need help but are not looking for it.
Housing advocates say Texas officials have also been proactive in enlisting the help of landowners and affordable housing groups, ensuring widespread membership.
âInitially, when they launched it, there were a few challenges,â said Chris Akbari, president of the Texas Affiliation of Affordable Housing Providers, who cited the early technical issues. âBut they stayed engaged and expanded the pool of technology providers. “
Akbari’s company, Itex Property Management, is based in Texas but owns properties in Louisiana, Arkansas and Colorado. He said there are differences when it comes to navigating the rental assistance process from state to state.
âIt’s amazing how much more advanced the Texas program is than in other states,â Akbari said. âIt was just a really good coordinated effort, so that everyone knew how and what to do, when to apply, how the process works. Other states, it’s just not so clear.
The Treasury Department noted San Antonio for contracting with a local healthcare collaboration that works with 20 grassroots nonprofits. San Antonio had distributed 92 percent of its initial federal allowance by the end of July.
Edward Gonzales, deputy director of the San Antonio Neighborhood Services and Housing Department, said: âWe wanted people to go into those pockets of the community that usually don’t apply to these government programs, similar to the pockets where people don’t get vaccinated. . “
âThe reality is that some tenants don’t trust the government,â said Melody Barr, deputy assistant manager of Houston utilities. âSo our nonprofit providers and our field agencies are the ones getting the message out. “
Texas isn’t the only red or purple state to effectively disburse rent assistance.
Virginia had spent more than half of its original allocation by the end of July, while Alaska had spent about a third. Some blue jurisdictions were also effective: the District of Columbia, for example, spent just under half of its first round of funding, while Massachusetts spent about a third.
New York’s rent assistance program was one of the slowest in the country to get started. After much debate, the state legislature approved it in a budget bill in April. The Treasury signed in May and the state began accepting requests in June.
But it wasn’t just a slow start that created the headaches. Housing organizers and advocates say key stakeholders were left out of the program design process and plagued by technical issues.
âThe lack of coordination meant that when they started the program there were issues that I think the owners could have anticipated and encouraged them to change the program before it started,â said Brendan Cheney, director of policy at the New York Housing Conference, an affordable housing group. âSame thing with advocates and suppliers. “
The lag has infuriated policymakers in Washington. Thirteen House Democrats representing New York City warned Hochul in an Aug. 28 letter of a “litany of issues regarding the deployment and execution” of the program.
An aide to a House Democrat said, âThere was a lot going on in New York State at the time, with Governor Cuomo – I don’t think his team was paying attention; they were trying to survive.
“I worked really hard to get $ 2 billion from New York to help tenants pay their rent when they lost their jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference Wednesday. “But this money, New York did not distribute it very well.”
The New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance said the state stepped up provision of rental assistance in August and disbursed nearly $ 300 million. Department commissioner Michael Hein told state lawmakers in an Aug. 19 hearing that taking into account the money that has been tentatively approved for households, New York has hit the threshold to prevent the Treasury does not withdraw funds. The Treasury has yet to release data for August.
Asked about criticism of the aid rollout, department spokesman Anthony Farmer said officials “continue to encourage all eligible tenants and their landlords to apply for this program.”
Hochul brought hope to critics of the program. On the first day of taking office, she ordered a “quick review” of the rental assistance program workflow, reassigned contracted staff to work only with landlords to fill out requests. expectation and called on the state to invest an additional $ 1 million in marketing and awareness efforts.
âThere were all of these issues with the program before, and I think we’re more optimistic now about how it’s going to play out,â Cheney said. “We are optimistic because this is a top priority for the new governor.”