Applications were originally set to close Aug. 30, but officials voted to extend the deadline through Sept. 2 at an Aug. 25 meeting of the Harris County Commissioners Court. Money spent on the program by the county is reimbursable through the federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who led the effort to establish the fund and pushed for the recent extension, said people who are facing economic hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic should not have to worry about being evicted from their apartments or rental homes.
"The pandemic is not the fault of anyone who has depended on the local economy to make ends meet," Garcia said in a Sept. 1 phone interview.
Landlords are required to apply to the program first to be recognized as participants, and tenants cannot apply if their landlord is not participating. To be eligible, the applicant's total household income must be below 50% of the area median income.
Once a tenant is approved, landlords are provided with payments directly from the relief fund on behalf of their approved tenants, Garcia said.
"[Landlords] are business owners as well, and it's hard to ask someone who owns an apartment complex to just forego their rent indefinitely. We are mindful of that, and we understand that," Garcia said.
Officials are discussing another potential deadline extension, but Garcia said he would also like to see more of a commitment at the state level to support local initiatives such as the rental relief fund as well as other funds in Harris County designed to support small businesses and provide health care-related relief. He urged residents to do their own part to reach out to the governor's office and ask for more support for local communities.
With many applicants already multiple months behind on rent, Garcia said the creation of the relief fund involved making a tough decision—whether to provide a larger group with enough money to pay one month of rent or the provide a smaller group enough money to make multiple payments. He said help from the state would allow them to do both.
"We could be doing so much more if the county had a partner like the state," Garcia said. "We could be really multiplying the amount of help we could provide. We could give people support for several months rather than just the one month of payment."
Harris County has chipped in $40 million to the program so far, with the city of Houston providing the other $20 million. The county received about $426 million in total federal coronavirus relief funding.
"This is a lot of money, but its not a lot of money when it comes down to nearly 4 million people that are struggling," Garcia said.
Learn more about the rental relief program here.