For immediate release: April 28, 2021
Rent Covered for Up to 14 Months for 15,000+ Families; Fund Still Open; Tenants Encouraged to Apply
HOUSTON, TX – The new $159 million Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program, in operation since only the end of February, has surpassed the $50 million mark in rental relief. Over $54 million has been allocated from the fund, covering overdue rent for over 15,000 families.
Up to 14 months of rent, not just a few months, is available for people impacted financially by COVID-19, so that they can get back on their feet. The program was designed to help those who were laid off, furloughed, or received dramatic wage reductions because of the pandemic, as well as provide assistance for low-paid front-line workers in manufacturing, retail, and medical facilities who have faced unprecedented health risks and may have experienced financial turmoil from getting sick without sufficient time off or adequate healthcare. The program is still open to new applicants; all qualified tenants are encouraged to apply.
“At a time when other rental assistance programs are struggling to get off the ground, I am so proud of the work being done within the City of Houston and Harris County to keep hard-working Houstonians in their homes,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We are more than a year into the pandemic, and there are a lot of people whose livelihoods haven’t been restored. There are also many sectors still seeing a fraction of the business they usually do, and this fund can help them—employees and small-business owners alike. We are marching toward recovery one step at a time.”
“The speed of relief reaching those in need is a direct reflection of so many organizations pulling together, in the same direction, to prioritize housing,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “I’m tremendously grateful to our region’s social services sector for answering the call and connecting families with assistance, helping them navigate what can be a stressful process during a traumatic time.”
About the Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program
The City of Houston and Harris County teamed up to create a unified program with a single set of guidelines and eligibility requirements, one application, one call center, one website, etc. Unlike past rental relief programs, tenants fill out the same forms no matter where they live within the county, and likewise, landlords who own properties inside and outside city limits only have to learn one set of rules—an improvement which has increased landlord participation to over 18,000 properties. Per federal guidelines, payments go directly to landlords instead of tenants, and tenants are protected from eviction, legal action, and late fees. There are also provisions to help tenants whose landlords choose not to participate in the program.
The City and County turned to BakerRipley and Catholic Charities for oversight and execution of the $159 million program, which includes administrative and operational support. Both agencies have a decades-long track record of efficient, compassionate support after hurricanes and other disasters, plus practical experience running last year’s COVID relief funds. Because of their combined efforts, along with the City and County streamlining the process, applicants are being helped faster and are receiving more substantial benefits. The program also includes case management, legal aid, and boots-on-the-ground assistance from eight other social service agencies (or “navigators”) proactively reaching out to the people most in need who otherwise might be unaware of or unable to apply for the program, due to language or technology barriers.
Qualifying families can receive as much as a year of overdue rent and two months of forward rent, plus some utility payments. Tenants and landlords alike can visit HoustonHarrisHelp.org to view the eligibility requirements and FAQs, submit documents, and find other resources.
In addition, a phone line is available at 832-402-7568 six days a week: Monday–Friday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
A status checker launched in March, so tenants can check where they are in the evaluation process at any time, day or night. A similar portal is being developed for landlords, which will allow them to see their participating tenants’ evaluation status and to verify all their tenants’ overdue rent via one central online “hub.” Both enhancements were designed with the end user in mind, to create a seamless experience for tenants and landlords alike.
The fund is still accepting applications, and to ensure maximum fairness, it is not running on a first-come/first-served basis. Qualifying applications are randomly selected, although the algorithm does prioritize applicants in the lowest income bracket and those who have been unemployed for at least 90 days. Being selected does not guarantee receipt of funds since selected applications must be reviewed to confirm eligibility and other compliance requirements. Renters living in Houston or Harris County, regardless of status, are welcome to apply if they can demonstrate need, COVID-related impact on their employment, and proof of income below the minimum threshold.