HOUSTON (CW39) The pandemic has many Houstonians still in need of rental assistance and now the city of Houston and Harris County is partnering up with a couple charities and are launching a relief fund for renters.
A new $159 million fund launches Thursday and will start accepting online applications. The Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program is pooling together new federal funds allocated to the City and County and will help local families struggling to make ends meet due to pandemic-related hardship. Qualifying families can receive as much as twelve months of rent relief and some utility payments.
Harris County and the City of Houston have tapped BakerRipley and Catholic Charities to administer the fund, and several additional nonprofits will serve as “navigator agencies”, to help families with their application.
A user-friendly site (HoustonHarrisHelp.org) offers a central portal where both tenants and landlords can learn about the eligibility requirements, read FAQs, and submit documents. In addition, a special phone line will open tomorrow at 832-402-7568, to take questions and provide applicants with the status of their applications.
The program is not running on a first-come/first-served basis, and qualifying applications will be randomly selected on a rolling basis; thus, tenants do not need to worry about applying immediately. The program is expected to remain open for several months.
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 and will also protect tenants from eviction, legal action, and late fees. (More details in attached FAQs.)
The program will prioritize applicants in the lowest income bracket and those who have been unemployed for at least 90 days. As with other COVID relief programs, being selected is not a guarantee 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.
“COVID-19 has created an insurmountable economic burden for many Houstonians. This fund will align both the City’s and the County’s resources, in collaboration with BakerRipley and Catholic Charities, so hard-working families can catch up and get back on solid footing financially,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “The rental assistance program is vital for assisting our neighbors in a timely and efficient manner. Houstonians are strong and resilient, and we will work together to overcome the impact of a deadly pandemic.”
“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.”
“Even as our communities continue to struggle with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, we were dealt another blow by an unprecedented weather event last week. These events are particularly challenging for our most vulnerable. That’s why partnering with Harris County, the City of Houston, and Catholic Charities is invaluable; it allows us to continue delivering critical rental assistance to residents across this region,” said BakerRipley President and CEO Claudia Aguirre. “Working together, we can lessen the burden of housing insecurity for our neighbors during these trying times.”
“The economic impacts from COVID-19, as well as the physical and emotional burdens, have touched everyone in this region. Many families never expected to come so close to being without a safe, warm home,” said Catholic Charities’ President and CEO Cynthia N. Colbert, MSW. “Our faith teaches us to do whatever we can to ease people’s suffering, and we’re honored to collaborate with the City, County, and our brothers and sisters at BakerRipley to make that happen.”
“Housing is health. We cannot have safe, healthy, stable, or economically thriving communities when people are forced to leave their homes, especially in the middle of a pandemic, said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “I am glad to have this federal funding for our region in the middle of this ongoing eviction crisis. The CDC moratorium has not stopped the over 34,900 eviction cases filed since January of last year, so this program comes at a critical time to help families in need stay housed.”
“As we continue to help those who are struggling during this pandemic damaged economy, it is important to partner with the City of Houston to ensure that those who need the help, get it quickly and effectively. Helping families who are perilously close to being put on the street because they can’t afford their rent, is a major priority of mine,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. Our administrative partners, Catholic Charities and BakerRipley, have shown tremendous success, and both understand that this program must get help to residents impacted right away. I’m confident that the design of this program will accomplish that, and I am excited about having a strong project management component in place to ensure that the program works as intended.”
“As we continue the fight against COVID-19, partnerships are critical in reaching the finish line. The collaboration between the City and County to provide $159 million in emergency rental assistance is something our residents desperately need during this financially difficult time,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, P.E. “Families have an opportunity to focus on the future instead of continually playing catch-up. There is no doubt this investment will benefit our community now and in the months to come.”
“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused too many of our neighbors to have to worry about their health, their families, and their jobs,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle. “I’m grateful that we are able to leverage federal Emergency Rental Assistance program funding to keep at least some of them from having to worry about homelessness as well. I encourage eligible renters and landlords to take advantage of this program, and I pray that this pandemic is soon behind us.”
Renters who applied this fall but were not selected for the previous BakerRipley rental assistance program have been asked to update their applications and are being included in the application pool. Landlords enrolled in the BakerRipley COVID-19 Rental Assistance program will also be automatically enrolled into this new program unless they choose to opt out.
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.