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Pandemic emergency rental assistance hits $181 million in San Antonio

Bexar County Courthouse
Ryan Loyd | Texas Public Radio
TPR News
Bexar County Courthouse

Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a transfer of $3.4 million into an emergency rental assistance program to help those with household instability due to the pandemic.

The federal COVID-19 relief dollars approved by commissioners brings total contributions by the county and city into the program to $181 million, according to Veronica Soto, director of the city's neighborhood and housing services department. The city distributes emergency rental assistance from the program for both city and county residents.

Soto described for the court those most in need since the pandemic began.

"More than half our applicants throughout county and city are singled-headed households — most of them female. We are dealing with working-age adults, so the ages of more than half the applicants range from 25 to around 55," she said.

She said the average applicant also earns just 30% of the average local median income.

The assistance money can be spent on a variety of needs to maintain a household and look for employment or an education, including fuel and internet access.

In other action, commissioners approved $200,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act for a study on reuse of the state hospital grounds on the South Side for those suffering from behavioral health issues.

The grounds are home to some buildings still in good shape, according to County Judge Nelson Wolff, which could be used as temporary homes during recovery. Wolff said the county might be better served by creating "step down" housing, rather than an expensive psychiatric hospital with up to 350 beds, which is also a focus of the study.

He directed county staff to keep those costs in mind as they proceed with the study.

County Mental Health Director Gilbert Gonzales told commissioners those with behavioral health issues can receive great initial care, but said the ball is often dropped afterward with inadequate temporary housing from 30 to 90 days while they try to get back on their feet.

"We don't give them the support or long-term, step-down traditional treatment that we have available to help them for the ultimate goal, which is recovery," Gonzales said.

Commissioners on Tuesday also addressed the backlog of thousands of family domestic violence cases that soared as people quarantined at home during the pandemic and struggled with job losses and substance abuse issues.

District Attorney Joe Gonzales was asked by Commissioner Justin Rodriguez if his office is making headway into the backlog.

"We're shifting our resources, we're making adjustments. We are assigning additional prosecutors into those courts that are now designating themselves as domestic violence priority courts," he said.

Commissioners approved two new additional investigator positions for the Family Justice Center, including their vehicles, at a cost of around $197,000.

In other action, commissioners directed county staff to disperse $8 million to expand UTSA Park West, home of the university's women's soccer and track programs.

The far Northwest Side facility on Kyle Seale Parkway has soccer and track fields, but not much else. UTSA Athletic Director Lisa Campos told commissioners that funding will put the women facilities on par with the men's programs and other schools in UTSA's conference.

"This project is going to include lounge areas, locker rooms, showers, equipment areas, sports medicine, a community room and other amenities that currently these programs do not have," she said.

Campos said the improvements will also allow UTSA to better open the facilities for public use too. Campos says women' soccer had their best season in the history of the program last year.

Also on the agenda, commissioners approved a budget transfer of nearly $5.8 million from the county clerk's office to the imaging services account to complete the restoration of historical court records and make them available online through vendor Kofile Technologies.

Kofile executive Cathy Drolet told commissioners those records from the 37th and 45th District Courts, the county's two oldest courts, and records from the Republic of Texas will soon be easily shared online around the world.

"Now the rich history of Bexar County is made available through our computers or our smart phone," Drolet said.

County Clerk Lucy Adame-Clark in recent years convinced commissioners to spend the funding needed to preserve and protect the county's historical records from water damage, mold, mildew and fire, including old Spanish records. Those records include colorful Spanish colonial maps.

Commissioners also:

  • Approved the purchase of six-acres of land at Brooks City Base for nearly $1.2 million for the home of a new Workforce Training Center that will train locals for advanced manufacturing jobs.
  • Approved $375,000 for the Family Violence Prevention Services with the Battered Women and Children's Shelter for intervention and counseling services.
  • Approved $357,000 from the County Buildings General Fund to increase security at the Bexar County Elections Office.  The office last year was breached by a gunman wanted for a hotel shooting in the area.  He was arrested and no injuries were reported, but the incident did shine the light on the need for more security.
  • Approved $445,000 from the Fire Code Fund to purchase and store generators to provide backup power for county temporary heating or cooling centers in the event of harsh weather and or power outages.
  • Approved the application for the Valero Texas Open Golf Tournament at the J.W. Marriott Resort and Spa from March 31-April 3.  The event is in its 100th year.  The open's executive director Larson Segerdahl told commissioners the event raised $16 million dollars for charity last year and said he expects total charitable giving during its 100 years will top $200 million.  Segerdahl said while the open is back in full swing from the pandemic this year, there will be COVID-19 protocols in place.  He also said there will be a fireworks show this year and concert featuring country musicians Jason Aldean and Darius Rucker.
  • Passed separate resolutions to honor this year's Fiesta Royalty and the late Mexican music star Vincente Fernandez.   Fernandez's son, Gerardo, gave them a copy of a book about the singer of "Volver, Volver" and other hits and a bottle of tequila from the family's ranch.  A spokeswoman for the family suggested commissioners toast the singer at lunchtime, which they responded to with laughter.   The King of Ranchero Music died on December 12, 2021, at age 81.  He was recently honored with a 15-minute tribute at a stock show and rodeo concert, according to Commissioner Justin Rodriguez. Fernandez family members were in attendance.
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