County strives to update renters, homeowners with assistance

By Megan Wehring 

HAYS COUNTY — Hays County has provided over $2 million in financial relief to residents through its COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program. 

The ERA program was created after the county received federal funds from the U.S. Department of Treasury to contribute rent, utilities and housing stability to qualifying households that were affected by the pandemic. Hays County currently has approximately 400 open tickets, 130 pending citizen completion, 25 under Auditor review and 230 under case worker review, according to data given at the March 29 Commissioners Court meeting.

Ardurra Group Inc., the new ERA program manager, is working on sending out communication materials to the public. 

“They are working on the material for not only print distribution but digital distribution,” said Tammy Crumley, Director of Countywide Operations. “They are working on drafts of emails and letters to go out from the renters to the landlords, vise versa. I’m not sure what that looks like yet. Then from school officials to parents.”

County Judge Ruben Becerra emphasized that Ardurra should make sure that any communication materials should be included in both English and Spanish. 

How can homeowners get help?

Becerra also pointed out that homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgage, property taxes and other home-related fees have an option. 

“There is a magnificent piece that the state and the federal government are working on,” Becerra said. “This is Emergency Rental Assistance. I can’t get tired of saying it enough. All of those who are homeowners are left out. There is a program that the state manages, [which is]federally funded, that is mortgage assistance for all of the homeowners.” 

Commissioner Walt Smith said that over the course of the last few weeks, he had meetings with the state of Texas, specifically with the homeowner assistance program. 

“I’m happy to announce that to everyone who is in Hays County who is currently behind on their mortgage, our tax office has entered into a partnership with the state,” Smith explained. “Any letter that is received by a homeowner pursuant to them either being behind on their taxes or if they are in fault of their last tax bill, there is direct information in that letter to that program.”

Smith added that the program not only helps homeowners with their mortgage but it pays for any and all property taxes, utilities and HOA fees. There are a number of fees that fall under the program. 

“The state is looking at establishing permanent processing centers for people to go in and apply for that if they don’t have internet access,” Smith said. “They are talking about having a process for pop-up centers where they would advertise for two to three weeks and they come to a county to do a pop-up center where people can go in without an appointment and sign up for the program. They have not done that yet.” 

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About Author

Megan Navarro (Wehring) graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. In June 2020, she started a summer internship at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch through the Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association. She then earned her way to a reporter position later that summer and now, she serves as the editor of the newspaper. Working for a small publication, Navarro wears multiple hats. She has various responsibilities including managing a team of reporters, making editorial decisions, overseeing social media posts, fact checking, writing her own articles and more. Navarro has a heart for storytelling and she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are important to the community.

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