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Houston rent relief: Millions are still available, but the help won’t last long

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — It’s the first of the month, and if you need assistance, there are still millions of dollars available, but it may not last for long.

WHAT HELP IS AVAILABLE?

Federal leaders passed stimulus bills late last year and early in 2021, which allocated billions in rental assistance. Programs were established to help tenants at the state level and within the city of Houston along with Harris and Fort Bend counties.

The money is available to assist renters who were impacted during the pandemic and are facing issues paying rent.

Each program is different. Houston and Harris County are working together. The state has its own program and Fort Bend County also has millions available.

HOW MUCH MONEY IS AVAILABLE?

Houston and Harris County have allocated $89.4 million and there $52.6 million remaining.

So far, it’s helped about 24,000 families, but officials believe the money won’t last much longer.

“Based on where we are today, and our current spend rate, I think the end of July is a very plausible goal,” Catholic Charities COO Bart Ferrell explained.

There’s more money available at the state level. Texas received $1.3 billion. So far, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs data shows $222,165,190 has been allocated, and 35,506 families assisted.

The state will receive an additional $1 billion, but won’t include it in the program until the original money is distributed.

Fort Bend County’s rental relief program has $36,756,352 remaining. This includes $19 million the county received from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress. The county said it’s enough money to help families through 2024.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE?

Each program is slightly different, but eligibility is similar. Household income must be 80% below the area medium income. In Harris County, it’s about $63,050 for a family of four.

You also must be experiencing housing instability or risk of homelessness. This could include past due rent or received an eviction notice. Lastly, you must have experienced hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as unemployment, reduction in work hours or business closure.

MORE THAN HELP WITH PAST RENT

The rental assistance programs helps with backpay from March 2020. It also includes assistance for future months. Houston and Harris County will cover two months ahead. At the state level, tenants can receive rent for three months ahead.

Joshua Johnson recently received three months of assistance. “Biggest relief I’ve had in maybe a year or so,” Johnson recalled. “I didn’t know where I was going to get the money from. I had taken a loan out of my 401K. I had taken out these other loans trying to pay them back as well.”

LANDLORDS CAN APPLY TOO

If you’re a landlord with tenants facing eviction, you can apply to help them receive assistance.

If your landlord won’t participate, it doesn’t mean you can’t get help. Agencies will work with tenants whose landlords won’t participate.

REACHING TENANTS FACING EVICTION

COVID-19 cases are declining, but people are still facing eviction. Consulting firm January Advisors tracks eviction cases in Harris County.

Since the start of the pandemic, its data shows 32,462 cases were filed. Last month, the number was nearly 2,100.

To reach those people, Houston and Harris County allocated $8 million to send people into eviction courts.

“[It’s] to help get those people who are in eviction court and work those cases too and get them relief so that they don’t evicted,” Ferrell explained.

The city and county also partnered with eight nonprofits across the region where people can apply for help in-person.

The state is looking to do something similar. A spokesperson said TDHCA is working on a final agreement with legal aids around the state on a grant to help tenants and landlords navigate the eviction diversion process and application.

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