Nearly $125,000 in federal funds have been secured for Hidalgo County and La Joya housing authorities to continue supporting families through the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar announced Wednesday in a virtual news conference.
The funds, which were awarded through the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, also come after Hurricane Hanna, which tore through the Rio Grande Valley in July.
The Hidalgo County Housing Authority will receive $108,144 of the funds, while La Joya will receive $16,667. A total of $124,811 was secured.
During the conference, Cuellar, D-Laredo, said channeling funds to the housing authorities is instrumental to ensuring the safety of low income families in the region.
Both housing authorities have programs that serve people with low incomes through several programs, such as Section 8, the Family Self-Sufficiency Program and the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
Mike Lopez and Ruben Villarreal, the Hidalgo County and La Joya Housing Authority executive directors, respectively, joined Cuellar in the conference.
They both said they have used past federal funds to stock up on PPE for employees and tenants, and that these news funds will help continue those efforts.
“It’s especially hard in the apartment setting,” Lopez said. “… For those living in apartments, if somebody gets sick or somebody dies, then we are having to have our own crews come, and they have to be careful in going there and having to sanitize everything.”
Lopez explained landlords have been “having a hard time keeping up with the flow of revenue that they used to have.”
Facing a gap in revenue compounded with added sanitary responsibilities, both housing authority executive directors agreed that the federal funds helped them keep homes sanitized and clean during the pandemic.
Lopez said funds have gone toward purchasing laptops for employees who needed one, along with installing an intercom system in their office building to minimize face-to-face contact between employees and tenants.
Working with the housing authority, however, cannot be done completely remotely. Lopez said five of his 42 employees have contracted the virus.
“We are doing as much as we can to help them protect themselves,” he said.
Villarreal of La Joya, like Lopez, said funds have gone toward COVID-19 equipment, including sanitizing fog machines.
He added that Hurricane Hanna, which was a Category 1 storm, inflicted a lot of damage to La Joya homes, and the funds will help the housing authority continue to make repairs.
“We now have to focus on walls and ceilings and plumbing,” Villarreal said to Cuellar. “Because 90% of our facility got hit hard by Hanna, congressman … 90% of my units had moderate to substantial damage.”
The housing authority also recently used funds to upgrade their outdoor sign, which was 20-years-old and faded, which made it difficult for tenants to find the office.
Villarreal emphasized that the community’s housing authority serves a high-need population, and almost a month into the online school year, the need to provide for families is more critical now than ever.
“I have a lot of single moms with families,” he said. “Right now a big challenge is also distance learning. We are looking at how we can manipulate or work technology, because La Joya we have a big school district and these kids are having to stay home and study at home, so we are trying to revamp ourselves.”
Villarreal, speaking for both housing authorities, told the congressman they are thankful for the funds and will do their best to continue supporting the region.
“We are trying to invest it very carefully because even though we hope more comes,” Villarreal said. “But congressmen, with what we have, we are going to stretch it and make it work for our community.”