In early April, the Texas Rent Relief Program sent more than $6,000 in rental assistance funds to the company that operates The Lodge at River Park to cover three months of unpaid rent and three months of future rent for Ogas.
But the money came too late to help. Ogas had already been evicted.
The 57-year-old has spent a career working in the health care industry, but was laid off just as the pandemic began. She has been unemployed since then, struggling to make ends meet with unemployment checks and extra cash from gig work.
In January, her savings exhausted, she fell behind on rent. She was waiting for the Texas Rent Relief program to process her application for a month when an eviction court judge ordered her to leave her home.
The Lodge at River Park is owned by Harbor Group International, and operated by an affiliate company called Harbor Group Management. According to their website, Harbor Group International boasts $12.7 billion in real estate assets across the nation, including 46,000 multifamily units and 4 million square feet of commercial real estate.
In a letter sent this week to the apartment’s management demanding the return of the rental assistance funds, a lawyer from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs said that to receive the rental funds, the company agreed to not evict Ogas for missing rent payments and to use the funds to clear her rent debt.
“As a landlord, you are not qualified to receive Texas Rent Relief funds for a tenant no longer residing in their unit — due to eviction or otherwise — as the program is currently designed to help tenants remain in their current housing,” the May 4 letter said.
At a hearing in Austin last week, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs Executive Director Bobby Wilkinson said that he’s tried to make it clear to landlords that they can’t get state rental assistance funds if they evict their tenants, even to cover past-due rent.
“If I did so … I could be incentivizing evictions,” he said.
A Harbor Group representative, Kathleen Denison, told KERA the company will return the funds to the state, saying that the company tries to work with clients, but was unable to help Ogas “due to timing and circumstances.”
That news is of little solace to Mona Ogas. She still has gotten no help from the $1.3 billion program for renters facing financial hardship during the pandemic. She is still living with a friend and doesn’t have an apartment of her own. She still has an eviction on her record that will make it harder to find housing in the future.
“If they can hold the landlord accountable, that’s great. But that doesn’t help me any. It really doesn’t,” she said. “For me, to have that eviction on my record is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”
The Harbor Group representative declined to say whether Ogas must still pay the company the rent payments she missed before she was evicted. Ogas said she believes she owes the company that evicted her nearly $3,000.
The entire saga has left Ogas frustrated, exhausted and worried about her future.
When she’s not applying for jobs, Ogas is trying to figure out how to get help, from the rent relief program or another that is supposed to help people in her exact situation.
“I haven’t seen one instance where they’re willing to even budge on this, and if you want a program that’s going to help people, you have to be adaptable,” she said. “How many others are in this situation?”