Montgomery County commissioners approved a deobligation of $3.2 million in emergency rental assistance funds to the U.S. Treasury Department at a March 8 commissioners court session.

The money was approved via the meeting’s consent agenda, meaning there was no discussion at court. The Treasury Department has set a March 31 deadline to recapture unused assistance funds.

In 2020, the county received $18.1 million in emergency rental assistance funds through December; the county returned $7.1 million of that in November 2021, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported. Following that release, the county created a new assistance portal for residents to apply for aid.

County Judge Mark Keough cited a lack of applicants in November but anticipated more residents would seek the ERA funding in 2022, when other federal grants expired. Community Development Director Rebecca Ansley told Community Impact Newspaper in a March 9 email that the county had spent $929,444.03 in aid as of December.

Ansley said 1,162 applicants had filed for Montgomery County rental assistance before the portal closed Jan. 14. The nonprofit Texas Housers, using data from Texas’ Office of Court Administration and Montgomery County courts, found that 2,456 eviction cases had been filed in the calendar year 2021. Texas Housers researcher Ben Martin said monthly cases increased in waves throughout 2021.

“Cases went to around 300 a month when the [United States] Supreme Court ended the eviction moratorium,” Martin said. “We’ve also been dealing with waves of [the] pandemic and different versions of economic crises that have hit different people in different places.”

Keeping unused funds in Texas

Martin said it was important that counties, including Montgomery County, keep unused rental funds in Texas by sending them to the Texas Rent Relief program, which is run by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Although Texas Rent Relief’s direct portal is closed as of January, spokesperson Kristina Tirloni said the program has invited counties to send unused funds to them, and has requested more funds from the Treasury Department.

Martin said when money is recaptured by the Treasury, it is not guaranteed to return to Texas counties that may need it more.

“We saw throughout the holiday period into the last few weeks another pandemic wave had a big impact on people,” Martin said. “Montgomery County needs to have a plan for voluntarily reallocating this money to the Texas Rent Relief fund.”

Ansley told Community Impact Newspaper the county requested its first $7.1 million disbursement to go to Texas Rent Relief, but the March 8 disbursement was requested directly by the Treasury, and the funds were required “as soon as possible.”

Local nonprofits retain aid

The county’s remaining $7.7 million in rental assistance is split into contracts with four nonprofits and $2,000 in unobligated funding. Three of those nonprofits saw their amounts amended after the March 8 deobligation.

  • The Montgomery County Society of Samaritans has $2.4 million on hand

  • The Montgomery County Community Assistance Center has $2.6 million on hand

  • The Houston-based Easter Seals has $2 million on hand

  • Interfaith of The Woodlands has $550,000 on hand

Tamara Young, the Community Assistance Center’s director of programs and client services, told Community Impact Newspaper that the funds’ impact is “real and runs deep.”

“Sometimes we are their last hope,” Young said. “'Strengthening Montgomery County one neighbor at a time’ is our motto, and we are thankful for the opportunity to partner with Montgomery County to utilize ERA funding to be able to do just this.”