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Collin County commissioners formalize redistribution of emergency rental assistance funds

mckinney_april_2017_027__historic_collin_county_courthouse_.jpg
Michael Barera
/
Wikimedia Commons
Collin County commissioners have distributed federal money to help residents who are having trouble paying their rent due to COVID-19.

Collin County commissioners have formalized the redistribution of emergency rental assistance funds from the U.S. Treasury Department to ensure the money is spent on time.

The county received $17.4 million from the U.S. Treasury Department for COVID-19 emergency rental assistance in early 2021. The City of McKinney received about $5.5 million of that funding for its assistance program, and Allen received $2.9 million. The remaining funds were set aside for other Collin County cities that didn’t receive separate allocations from the Treasury Department.

Any emergency assistance funding that isn’t spent by Sep. 30 must be returned to the Treasury Department. Kerry Lindsey, director of strategic initiatives for Collin County, said the commissioners approved a $3 million reallocation to McKinney in December — and another $660,000 to Allen in May — so the money is spent by the September deadline. Those reallocations came from the money Collin County had set aside for the other cities and unincorporated areas.

The fund is a COVID-19 relief resource created under Collin CARES, which uses dollars from the American Rescue Plan. The county received the $17.4 million from Congress in 2021.

The money Collin County received from the emergency rental assistance program provides rent and utility assistance to residents in many communities, including Allen and McKinney. Dallas, Frisco and Plano got federal money directly.

Renters seeking assistance must qualify for unemployment due to COVID-19 or be experiencing some other financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, according to the program’s requirements. They also have to be at risk for homelessness or housing instability and must meet a certain median income based on their household size and area.

Colleen Campbell, the executive director of Assistance Center of Collin County, said her organization hasn't been able to meet the rising demand for rental assistance. She said that need started to grow during the pandemic and continues to rise as inflation and rental costs creep up.

"For our families and individuals, that's really pushing people to a point where they can't afford rent," Campbell said. 

Collin County's median household income is higher than the national average. The county's median household income is $100,541, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, compared to the country's average of $67,521.

But Campbell said even higher income brackets are being impacted by the lingering economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other organizations are also having people from higher income brackets than usual reach out for assistance. That includes the Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, which supports home preservation projects in North Texas.

Farwah Raza is the supervising attorney in McKinney, She said the home preservation project there has a slightly higher income threshold than other legal aid programs. Most of their applicants are in the income limit's upper range.

"If we were not there, essentially, those people would not be eligible for legal services because they were too rich for public assistance but then too poor to actually afford an attorney," Raza said.

Legal Aid of Northwest Texas provides legal assistance to renters facing evictions, something Raza and Campbell both said have gone up. Raza said that's happening as eviction moratoriums end and rent relief funds deplete.

Once renters haven't paid their rent, Raza said there isn't much that can be done; Failing to pay leads to an eviction. And that, she said, leaves a permanent stain on a renter's record that can be challenging to overcome. Even if renters find stable employment later, the evictions stay on their records – and that locks them out of many rental options they had access to before being evicted.

"You have this black mark on your housing record that's going to make it much harder for you to find the same type of housing again," she said.

Rental assistance programs can help prevent this, but Campbell said they're a temporary solution. To really address housing needs in Collin County, she said there needs to be more affordable housing options available to renters.

"No one can pay someone's rent for an unlimited number of months," Campbell said. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include new information from Collin County.

Got a tip? Caroline Love is a Report For America corps member for KERA News. Email Caroline at  clove@kera.org. You can follow Caroline on Twitter @carolinelove37.

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Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.