Update Feb 10:

Houston City Council approved its $77.8 million rent relief program Feb. 10 alongside Harris County's rent relief program forming a combined $159 million fund.

Update Feb. 5:

Houston City Council will vote on the rent relief package Feb. 10.

Original post Feb. 3:

The city of Houston is planning to distribute $77.8 million in rent relief in the coming weeks using funding primarily from a federal aid package passed at the end of December.

Though details of the final program are still being worked out, Houston City Council could approve the million rent relief package by the end of February.

“Ideally, in the next couple of weeks, we hope, this item will be ready to go before council, considering the legal review and contracts,” said Council Member Tiffany Thomas, who is also chair of City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee.

When brought before council, the city of Houston package is expected to fund rental relief for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as legal aid for renters facing eviction and case managers to help steer tenants toward other available aid programs.

“We are looking for nonprofits who have a particular interest in case managing the eviction docket. ... We also want the message out to the landlords to be loud and clear: 'You do not need to file an eviction to get assistance,’'’ McCasland said.

How can residents apply?

As with the city's previous rounds of rent relief, an application portal will first open for landlords. Tenants will then be able to log into the system, search for their landlord and apply for rent relief through the website.

Unlike the previous rounds of funding, however, if residents see that their landlord is not represented in the system, they can still apply for aid. Instead of having their rent cured through their landlord, those renters will receive a direct payment.

Anyone who has previously applied for aid through the city is eligible to apply again, Thomas said.

“What we’ll be able to do is bypass that barrier and issue direct assistance so they can handle business on their own,” Thomas said.

How will renters be chosen?

As with the second round of funding that the city allocated to renters, applications will be evaluated based on need. When the city attempted to offer aid through a first-come, first-served basis, the funding was depleted in less than two hours.

According to federal guidelines, applicants will have to prove their inability to pay rent is directly tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and will have to earn less than 50% of the area median income. For Houston, that ranges from $26,000 for a one-person household, $37,250 for a four-person household and $49,150 for an eight-person household.

Funds will be distributed through local nonprofit BakerRipley at www.bakerripleyrenthelp.org.

What about Harris County?

Harris County commissioners plan to vote separately Feb. 9 on a rent relief allocation of roughly $70 million, a spokesperson for County Judge Lina Hidalgo confirmed. Details of the county’s rent relief program are still being finalized.

The funds will also be distributed through BakerRipley. Information on whether city of Houston residents can apply for Harris County funds is not yet available.