HOUSTON - People struggling to pay rent will soon have two new opportunities to receive rental assistance.
Harris County and the City of Houston voted this week to offer a combined $159 million, which includes funds previously approved by both the county and city, plus the state of Texas is making $1.3 billion available.
The Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program will provide relief for past-due rent, some past-due utilities, as well as some future rent payments.
Landlords can enroll as early as next week, and the program will accept renters’ applications by the end of February.
A single website, HoustonHarrisHelp.org, will serve both renters and landlords. Required documentation, eligibility requirements, and FAQs are already available online, and support by phone will be available when applications open.
After many landlords declined the last round of combined Houston-Harris County rental assistance due to the terms, changes are being made this time around.
"I heard from landlords that they liked the idea, the problem is 'we are already months and months and months behind.' And they have got to pay their own bills as well. So this one is going to allow us to go back ten months in areas with two months of protection in advance," explained Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.
Eligible tenants could receive up to ten months of rent owed as far back as March 2020, plus two months of future rent. Landlords would have to agree not to evict the tenant for back owed rent until the CDC eviction moratorium expires March 31.
But unlike last time, landlords would not have to agree not to evict any tenants for overdue rent in the entire complex, or to discount late rent.
Catholic Charities and BakerRipley will administer the program together and have set up the website. A phone line will also be available when applications open.
"I want to let people know, don't worry if day one you don't get your application in the day we open up the portal. Applications will be selected on a random basis," said Cynthia Colbert with Catholic Charities.
To qualify, households must earn below 80% of the HUD area median family income. But priority will go to households below 50% AMI and with at least one person unemployed 90 days. Money will be paid to landlords. But if the landlord doesn't sign on, renters can receive aid directly as well.
"We are also going to the previous list to take folks off of that, so we'll be able to help some folks nearly immediately," said Garcia.
Colbert says the Catholic Charities and BakerRipley have been working extended hours to administer prior rental assistance programs, as well as prepare for this one.
"I want to convey to anybody listening we absolutely know the need and we want to help you. In the meantime, 2-1-1 is a resource people can call," said Colbert.
Governor Abbott also announced a new $1.3 billion Texas Rent Relief Program.
Households must meet the same financial qualifications as the Houston-Harris County program.
Fort Bend County's portal for rental aid is expected to open on Feb. 15.
If you're facing eviction, Harris County Constable Precinct One Alan Rosen's office has a hotline for free legal assistance at (346) 250-1069.