Help for Local Families—$159 Million in New COVID-19 Relief:
City of Houston and Harris County Establish New Rental Assistance Fund,
Appoint BakerRipley and Catholic Charities to Administer Program
Fund to Cover Past-Due Rent and Future Rent for Families Struggling from Pandemic;
Applications to be Randomly Selected for Verification, not First-Come, First-Served
HOUSTON, TX (February 10, 2021) – As the pandemic’s presence in the region nears the one-year mark, officials from the City of Houston and Harris County voted this week to authorize a new rental assistance program to help families who are at risk of losing their homes from pandemic-related impacts of unemployment, business closures, or unforeseen expenses. The fund totals $159 million, including funds previously approved by both City and County.
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, www.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.
Per U.S. Treasury guidelines, most payments will be made directly to landlords instead of tenants. This will reduce the wait-time for past-due rent to be paid. Landlords will be obligated to credit their renters’ accounts within five business days and to cease pursuing eviction, late fees, and legal action.
The program will prioritize applicants in the lowest income bracket and those who have been unemployed for at least 90 days. For maximum fairness, it will not operate on a first-come/first-served basis; applicants will be selected randomly. Being selected is not a guarantee of funds; once selected, applications will be reviewed to confirm eligibility and other compliance requirements. Once the application form is available online, the program will remain open through this fall or until all funding is distributed. Additional details will be announced this month.
The Harris County Commissioners Court voted on Tuesday to greenlight the program, and Houston City Council approved their portion of the funding today. The fund will be run by two of the region’s largest social services agencies, BakerRipley and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The two agencies were tasked with similar programs last year and have proven emergency management expertise. Navigator agencies will be tapped to help families apply and ensure that underserved populations are informed about the program. Any Houston or Harris County renter can submit an application, provided the funds are paid directly to the landlord.
“The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated thousands of people and made it difficult for hard-working families across our region to pay rent,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “The City-County partnership with BakerRipley and Catholic Charities demonstrates how critical a coordinated collective response is to helping our neighbors. Our current state demands we align our efforts and leverage our resources and expertise to better support the growing needs of our community.”
“Hard-working families throughout Harris County are teetering on the verge of homelessness because of the prolonged economic hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “The Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program offers a critical lifeline to scores of residents facing economic hardship through no fault of their own, offering hope that they might emerge from this crisis with their households intact. This way, they will be prepared to immediately contribute to our community when our job market rebounds. The societal cost of sitting by and letting these households crumble under the weight of the pandemic is too high for us to contemplate. This rental assistance program represents a smart, responsible, and compassionate investment in our collective prosperity.”
Renters who applied this fall but were not selected for the previous BakerRipley rental assistance program will be asked to update their applications and will be included in the application pool.
For those who do not qualify or who need immediate assistance, the 2-1-1 help line is open 24 hours a day, and both Catholic Charities and BakerRipley are running other programs to help families impacted by the pandemic.