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Organizations providing El Pasoans rent relief face huge demand as many try to survive

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- More than 1.5 million Texas renters have little or no confidence in their ability to pay next month's rent, according to new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey. Now, a new statewide program with more than $1 billion in federal funds hopes to help.

"There were times I was completely jobless. I had no source of income," said David, an El Paso renter. He requested ABC-7 withhold his last name.

RELATED CONTENT: Experts say El Pasoans applying for rental assistance should avoid these 6 mistakes

David's story is all too familiar; he lost his job at the start of the pandemic and has struggled to pay his bills ever since.

"If anything, the whole pandemic has just been a lot of anxiety," he said. "A lot of uncertainty not knowing how you're going to make it through the next month."

Numerous organizations are trying to help. Nearly a year into the pandemic, representatives for some of those organizations say funds are running out.

David applied to the El Paso Apartment Association (EPAA) for help with three month's rent, but while waiting for approval, those months came and went.

"They just told me that it was just pending," David said. "After six months, my hopes aren't very high."

EPAA assured David in an email that those who applied would be paid.

ABC-7 asked EPAA's Executive Director, Scott Lynch, if that was true.

"Yes, I mean, provided that the applications are correct and they meet the income requirements," Lynch said. "I've only seen a handful get disapproved, so for the most part, if they apply, they will be paid eventually."

Lynch said it should take about 60 days for funds to be distributed if an application is submitted without errors.

EPAA had so many applications starting the new year the organization closed their rental assistance program (run through their charitable organization 'Under One Roof') temporarily. Lynch said the closure was necessary because if all pending applications were approved, the money would have been exhausted. Just last week, EPAA was able to reopen applications after the organization received an additional $1 million in funding from the state.

As of earlier this week, Lynch said EPAA had 800 pending applications. The organization has a staff of three people.

"The applications are coming faster than we have working capital," Lynch said. "We spend down to almost the last penny."

"We get calls, you know, seven days a week, on the weekends," Lynch said.

It's not the only assistance program to stop accepting applications this year. Project BRAVO closed applications indefinitely for rental and mortgage assistance after the nonprofit received more than 2,900 new and repeat applications for services in just over two weeks. It's roughly 30% of the total number from 2020.

Project BRAVO is still accepting applications for utility assistance.

Project BRAVO Executive Director Laura Ponce said welfare programs were already stretched thin before the pandemic.

"We not only have people who have been historically poor, we have a whole bunch of other people who have never been poor," Ponce said.

Texas state officials are now taking a new approach. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) launched the first statewide rent and utility assistance program earlier this month. More than $1 billion in federal funding is available for qualifying families as part of the Texas Rent Relief Program. The money was allocated to Texas through the latest federal COVID-19 stimulus bill. Applications are already open.

"Certainly the need is bigger than the resources in the program and so we have to get the money out quickly," said TDHCA Executive Director Bobby Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said the money could help an estimated 80,000 households.

The statewide effort aims to fill gaps where need is not currently being met.

"We haven't had necessarily statewide coverage," he said. "So I think this new resource, with a big website, call center, quick processing will be a big help to everyone."

If an application is done correctly, Wilkinson said money could be paid in two weeks. In most cases, the money will be paid directly to landlords or utility providers.

David said he is planning to apply.

"It's weird because it almost feels like so many other people are going through the same thing," David said. "There's some kind of solidarity. I'm not the only one struggling through it and that brings me a little bit of peace of mind."

Doña Ana County also received new funding to help those impacted by Covid-19. The county received a $9.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA). The money is available for county residents for rent and utility payments. Information and application documentation can be found here.

Representatives from EPAA and Project BRAVO offered some tips on avoiding common mistakes when applying for assistance. You can find those tips here.

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Madeline Ottilie

Madeline Ottilie is a reporter on Good Morning El Paso and co-anchors ABC-7 at noon.

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