A story the Observer
published Thursday headlined "Dallas County Is About To Lose $17 Million in Unspent Federal Relief Funds" was, in a nutshell, wrong. We apologize.
We've removed the original story from our site. It was based on out-of-date information from housing advocacy group Texas Housers, but the error was ours. Texas Housers had updated its report, but we failed to find the new information. Both Texas Housers and Dallas County Health & Human Services, which oversees the county's rent relief effort, contacted us to let the know the story was wrong.
The story stated that a deadline for the county to spend federal funds to assist renters affected by the COVID pandemic was fast approaching and the county could be required to return $17 million in unspent funding. All of the federal money from the program to the county has either been spent or obligated to help renters. The story also incorrectly suggested the county's effort to publicize the program to renters was inadequate. Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health & Human Services, points out that the county not only made extensive efforts to publicize the program through the media, it also took innovative steps to ensure that renters facing eviction knew of the program's availability.
"We were the ones who put people into the [justice of the peace] courts to help people to try to avoid evictions," Huang said.
Here, in DCHHS words, is the correct information:
1. The article states that “Dallas County stands to lose $17 million of federal rent relief” funding. This statement is incorrect. Dallas County has expended $12,367,338 of the $22,823,279 available through Emergency Rental Assistance program 1 (ERA1). as of February 28, 2022. The remainder of the unspent funds, roughly $10.45 million, has been obligated to landlords for prospective months of assistance to eligible clients. As a result, Dallas County has either expended or obligated all available funds for ERA1. Based on United States Department of Treasury (Treasury) guidance, Treasury will not recapture funds that have actually been spent or obligated (promised in a commitment letter issued to induce a landlord). As such, Dallas County does not “stand to lose $17 million of federal rent relief” and the statement in the article needs to be corrected.
2. The article states that the County didn’t build systems for informing qualifying renters about the emergency rental assistance program (ERAP). Dallas County did indeed make every effort to market the program and disseminate program information within the Dallas County community. From the very beginning of the program roll-out, Dallas County published public notices in The Dallas Morning News
in English and in Al Dia
in Spanish. Following the public notices, Dallas County launched a comprehensive media campaign utilizing its contracted media company, Alpha Business Images, LLC (ABI). The campaign included program messaging to the target audience through radio, television, and social media platforms. As of the latest report from ABI, the campaign reached over 1.25 million individuals, resulting in over 7.62 million impressions and 12,058 link clicks. Additionally, Dallas County stood-up a microsite to help all Dallas County residents (including city of Dallas residents) apply for program at a single site; the site is found here www.RentHelpForMe.com
. Dallas County has additionally conducted numerous presentations, outreach events, calls, written communication and flier distribution, to broadcast program information to thousands of household across Dallas County, through a plethora of channels. Finally, the DCHHS PIO has worked closely with media partners to promote the ERAP program, resulting in several articles being published (a sample of which is provided below) as well as stories airing on various TV news stations in English and Spanish.
3. In addition to the efforts mentioned above, Dallas County was the first to place housing navigators in the Justice of Peace Courts to provide direct interventions for residents facing evictions through the Eviction Diversion Program (EDP). Through this initiative Dallas County has prevented upwards of 200 pre-eviction diversions and diverted evictions to over 400 households.
4. The article states that the Dallas County housing authorities didn’t respond to request for comment. Departmental records indicate that no such request was received from the Observer
in this matter.