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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Nonprofit Wants To Get The Word Out About Mortgage And Rent Help

A bright orange eviction notice hangs on an door leading into a home with a rocking chair and other furniture in the background.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

Even with an improving economy and billions of dollars in federal aid, a lot of people are still at risk of losing their homes. This North Texas nonprofit is one of many trying to help people avoid eviction or foreclosure.

Throughout the pandemic, the Community Council of Greater Dallas has been helping people stay afloat as the pandemic battered the economy and hit the most vulnerable families hardest.

“Up until recently, we had a big, huge, long waiting list, and we got through the waiting list,” said CEO Sharla Myers. “So now we want to make sure that we get the word out that there we still have funding available.”

The nonprofit has about $2 million left from the bucket of federal pandemic relief funds approved by Congress at the beginning of the pandemic.

The funds can be used to help homeowners or renters with mortgage or rent payments. They’re available for Dallas County residents who have faced financial stress related to the pandemic, and can be used to pay up to six months of unpaid bills.

Unlike some assistance funds, the Community Council can use the funds to help people who are undocumented.

“Really, almost anybody who was affected by COVID can call us, and we can either provide assistance ourselves or help them find somebody who can,” said Myers.

Myers worries a lot of people who qualify for help paying housing costs still don't know that it's available. Documentation requirements, required by the federal government to ensure the money is going to people who are eligible, have also been a barrier for some applicants.

The 80-year-old nonprofit also offers an array of other services, like emergency funding, help finding a job and building skills, financial literacy education and case management.

Across the state, big cities and counties have been doling out federal assistance to beleaguered renters. The statewide Texas Rent Relief Program, which struggled to serve Texans in the weeks after it launched, has since improved the application process and approved aid for more than 60,000 households.

Nonprofits like the Community Council are also a vital part of the effort to keep people housed as pandemic protections disappear.

Housing Costs Remain A Struggle

The most recent Census Bureau snapshot of American financial wellbeing shows that Texans are still having a harder time paying for housing costs than before the pandemic.

Nearly 1 in 10 homeowners with a mortgage said they were behind on payments, and nearly 2 in 10 renters had already missed rent, according to the bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.


Need help paying rent? Check out KERA's guide to city and county rental assistance programs across North Texas.


Across the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex, more than a quarter of calls to the state’s 2-1-1 assistance line are related to housing, with more than half asking for help finding help paying rent.

Samanda Gronstal, the council’s senior director of economic mobility, said too often, people wait until they’re in dire straits before reaching out for help, even though they don’t need to.

“People have told me I already lost my car, I exhausted all my savings, I don’t have anybody that will lend me money, so I’m here,” said Gronstal, the council’s senior director of economic mobility.

Gronstal said she wants people to “call when the water is at your ankle, not when it’s at your throat.”

Diminishing Protections

For more than a year, a moratorium on evictions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a mortgage forbearance option have offered respite and kept people in their homes, but both are set to expire at the end of June.

While the federal protections for homeowners and renters have been extended throughout the pandemic, the Biden administration has not signaled whether it will do so again.

The expiration of the homeowner protections may not be so bleak, even as some big banks are planning to restart mortgage foreclosures as early as July. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering a new regulation that would ban foreclosures until the end of the year.

Even so, Gronstal said most of the clients she talks with have never heard of forbearance.

Even though the CDC moratorium is still in place, at least until the end of the month, protections for renters have faced a barrage of federal courts court challenges and been undermined by Texas’ highest court. The state Supreme Court stopped requiring eviction courts to notify tenants of their rights under the CDC moratorium.

“Once a tenant is evicted, it’s going to be extremely difficult for that tenant to get another apartment, because they’re going to have that eviction on their record, and so they are much more likely to end up staying homeless for a longer period of time than someone who has not been evicted,” said Myers.

Even without an eviction, a spiking home prices and rising rents makes finding somewhere else to live challenging. Even before the pandemic, Texas was grappling with a severe shortage of affordable housing.

Texas’ unemployment rate remains significantly higher than it was before the pandemic. According to state data, 3.7% of Texans who wanted to work couldn’t find jobs. Last month, that rate was 6.7%.

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott decided to cut off additional federal unemployment aid for out-of-work Texans. His decision will reduce Texans' unemployment checks by $300 starting next month.

‘We Work With The Entire Community’

Gronstal, from the Community Council of Greater Dallas, said she’s heard from several clients who had just started to build back household finances battered by the pandemic when February’s deep freeze hit. The storm deprived some workers of wages, and left others with elevated utility bills and home repairs that undermined their fragile recoveries.

Gronstal said filling out an online application for aid is best, though the organization is equipped to help those without access to the internet, or who need help navigating the application process.

“We work with the entire community, whether you are a senior and you can’t read anymore and you need somebody to take your information over the phone, or you don’t speak the language and you need someone who is bilingual to help you with the paperwork,” Gronstal said.

More information is available online at ccadvance.org or by phone at (214) 871-5065.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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