How to get rent relief: Houston’s proposed expansion program to offer at least $19 million in aid

Downtown skyline view from Sam Houston Park.
Houston tenants will get another chance to apply for rent relief in August if City Council approves another round of funding August 5.

Houston tenants will get another chance to apply for rent relief in August if City Council approves another round of funding August 5.

With state and federal eviction protections in the rearview mirror and boosts unemployment checks expiring, a significant number of renters in Houston could be facing eviction. A U.S. Census Bureau survey found at least 37% of adults in the Houston metro area either missed rent or a mortgage payment in July or have little confidence that they can pay in August.

Here’s how the city’s rental relief fund will work if it is approved by Houston City Council on Aug. 5. After the vote, a date for the application period will be set.

How much funding will be available?

As of July 31, the fund totals $19 million, of which $15 million comes from Houston’s allocation of CARES Act money and $4 million of which comes from charitable donations. So far, those donors include the Houston Endowment, The Kinder Foundation and the Greater Houston Covid-19 recovery fund. The amount of relief each individual renter can apply for has not been determined. A portion of the funding will also be set aside to provide funding for legal representation for renters through Lone Star Legal Aid.

Will undocumented residents qualify for assistance?

With the addition of funding from nonprofits and private foundations, the new rent relief fund is open to both documented and undocumented Houston residents. The previous round of relief funding offered by the city in May was only available to documented residents because it was funded entirely by the CARES Act.

How will residents apply for the rental assistance?

Unlike the previous round of rental assistance, these funds will not be allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. Instead, renters with the highest need will be served first. The city will also work with Harris County to ensure that those who receive assistance from the county’s assistance fund cannot receive funding from the city of Houston for the same months’ rent.

Do renters have a grace period to pay back missed rent?

Despite calls from advocates and a city and county housing task force, there is no mandate from the city of Houston that requires landlords to give renters a grace period to pay back missed rent. However, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Apartment Association President Clay Hicks told reporters July 31 that an informal grace period requirement may be enforced by the HPA. The final details are not yet determined, Turner said July 31.

Will there be enough funding to meet the need in Houston?

After a $15 million round of rent relief was depleted in 90 minutes in May, Turner said he expects the next round will be similarly stretched thin. He said he and other council members are lobbying lawmakers to provide more aid to renters in a stimulus package currently being deliberated by Congress.

How can donors contribute to the fund?

Donors can contribute to the fund through BakerRipley, the organization tasked with operating the rental relief program. Turner said his goal is for the fund to grow to $20 million to $25 million by Aug. 5.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.