HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Hidalgo County lost nearly $12 million on renter assistance from the U.S Department of the Treasury. The funding was intended to help residents who could not afford to pay for rent or utilities because of financial problems caused by the pandemic.
Jaime Longoria, the Executive Director of the Hidalgo County Community Service Agency said he believes the county did everything it could to inform the community about the rental assistance funds. However, there were several barriers faced.
“It took us over a year to gather the momentum if you will, people didn’t trust our program,” said Longoria.
According to Longoria, the Hidalgo County Community Service Agency helped nearly 2,900 families with funds from the rental assistance program.
He said the need for renters’ assistance remains huge in the Rio Grande Valley.
“We remain a COVID hotspot, we also have the economy that’s really tightening up on families,” said Longoria. “We recognize that rents have doubled in some cases and have really increased in some cases.”
Longoria said the county worked closely with local organizations and nonprofits to inform the community about the free money that was available.
He said in July, 1,100 applications were received. However, the majority of the applications were not filled out properly.
“We tried to make accommodations for families who had no technology by having that 1-833 number,” said Longoria. “We wanted to make sure that families knew they could call in English and Spanish and so we had operators available.”
According to Longoria, the county initially received $26.2 million to help residents. However, $11.9 million has to be returned to the treasury.
Despite the loss, Longoria said the county will continue to work to provide for families who had applied for renter assistance.
“We’ve been helping keep families in their homes and when they can’t be helped, because frankly, some of the families have been evicted,” said Longoria. “We’re going to be there to help keep them in a temporary situation until we find something more permanent; that’s a commitment from not only myself as a director of this program, but certainly from the county.”
Longoria said the county will continue to work with organizations and plans to reach out to public libraries and school districts to help educate the public on the renter’s assistance program.
An official with Come Dream Come Build said their organization has spent $9.3 million helping residents with funding, but added they are one of four agencies in Cameron County providing assistance.