A total of $19.5 million for rental and mortgage assistance will be distributed in three phases between June and November, Fort Bend County Auditor Ed Sturdivant said. The county also has $2 million in funds for utility assistance.
“The main criteria for being eligible for these funds [are]: First, you were damaged by this pandemic and, second, you have a need," Sturdivant said.
The maximum amount an approved applicant can receive is $2,000 per month per household: up to $1,500 for rent or mortgage and up to $500 for utilities, Sturdivant said. He added an applicant’s funds will go directly to his or her landlord, mortgage company or utility company to reduce fraud.
Fort Bend County residents can apply for the financial assistance by calling 281-238-2273 or going online to www.coronavirusfortbend.gov/forms-covid19-rental-assistance-program.html.
Fort Bend County residents can apply for the Phase 1 funds until June 12 or until the funds are expended, Sturdivant said. He stressed any county resident—regardless of their citizenship status—can apply. However, applicants must provide a government ID and proof of their utility bills, and mortgage or lease agreement, among other criteria.
He and Anna Gonzales, Fort Bend County's social services director, urged everyone to apply as quickly as possible so the county can help them find resources even if they are not eligible or miss the Phase 1 deadline.
“If [residents] have applied—and whether they got in on the first round, or they didn’t make it in before the funding ran out—we will have their application, and we will reach back out to them [during subsequent phases] and ask if they still have a need,” Sturdivant said.
There may be other options available through Fort Bend County Social Services for some residents who may not qualify for these funds, Sturdivant said. There is a possibility that if the need is high for rental, utility and mortgage assistance, Fort Bend Commissioners Court may allocate additional funds for this program, he added.
The funds for Fort Bend County’s program to help residents pay for their rent, utilities and mortgage come from a $134.3 million direct allotment from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Sturdivant said.
Rev. David Lee Sincere Jr. with Fort Bend Transformation Church, Advocacy Now Institute and The Metropolitan Organization was one of several county residents and officials who spoke at Commissioners Court about the need for rental, mortgage and utility assistance. He said he has received a number of phone calls, emails and stories from residents who require help.
In an interview, he praised the work Fort Bend County Social Services is doing to help residents in need during the pandemic and expressed optimism for the county’s small-business grant program that will help create jobs so residents can recover.
However, he noted the great need for financial assistance for both renters and landlords.
“I don’t think [$19.5 million from the federal government] is enough to help individuals with the plethora of issues that they’re dealing with related to COVID,” Sincere said. “Overall I don’t think it was enough funds over the long term. We don’t know when COVID is going to end. ... The rental assistance program will cover June, July, August, but what about after?”