HOUSTON – Just a couple of hours after opening for tenant applications Wednesday, the rent assistance program authorized by the Houston City Council ran out of money.
The council voted last week in favor of a $15 million assistance program with an additional $8 million for Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Starting Thursday, May 7 at 10 a.m., landlords could use the new online portal, HoustonRentAssistance.org, created by Baker Ripley. Landlords had to enroll in the rental assistance program in order for their tenants to apply for the funds. The relief program was not just for apartments but for any property that has tenants. To qualify for the funds, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said landlords must have agreed to waive all late fees and penalties for the months of April and May.
Renters were able to apply for rental assistance starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Just about two hours later, a tweet from the Houston Housing and Community Development Department indicated that all of the $15 million in assistance money had been allocated.
The $15M for Rental Assistance has been entirely pledged, and applications are now closed. We understand that this funding is nowhere near enough to meet the need of all Houstonians. @BakerRipley @HoustonTX— Houston HCDD (@HoustonHCDD) May 13, 2020
In order to qualify, tenants must have been current on their rent prior to the month of April. Applicants must have undergone financial hardship related to the pandemic, such as a loss of job. They must have had a median income of approximately $40,000 for one person or $60,000 for a family of four.
‘There’s a huge, huge need’
The program was expected to help close to 7,000 families with an average of $1,000 per month they’re behind on rent. Turner said the federal money, which came from the CARES Act, will be dispersed on a first come first serve basis.
“There’s a huge, huge need and what we did was take some of the dollars and utilize them to meet the needs of some of the people,” Turner said. “But certainly not anywhere close to all the people that need assistance to all of the people in our city.”
Turner said Houston’s undocumented community would not qualify for the program since the program was created with federal money. He said he hopes Congress will allocate additional funds set aside specifically for rent relief.
Canika Jefferson and her three children live in an apartment in the Clear Lake area. She lost two jobs in early March and has been living off unemployment since.
“All I can do is just live day-to-day and pray it all works out, but I’ve made payments to them, so it’s not like I’m not trying,” said Jefferson.
Jefferson hopes she qualifies for relief.
“Right now, I’m just trying to make sure my kids are able to still eat versus so much worried about the rent because they’re always first,” said Jefferson.
Jefferson’s property manager said he was applying for the assistance and would notify tenants if and when the apartment complex was approved.
According to the city, 17,000 tenants were attempting to apply and it caused a delay on the website after it opened Wednesday morning.
The site has now reached $10 million in applications. $15 million is available.— Mary Benton (@IAmMaryBenton) May 13, 2020
Demand is great from those who have lost jobs and income as a result of #COVID19 and need help paying their rent. https://t.co/ZOsmrZL4Dg
According to HCDD, Turner is advocating for another allotment of federal money to offer more rental assistance.
@houmayor committed to this program knowing there was way more demand than $15 million could serve. That’s why he is advocating for the $100 billion in rental assistance along with $75 billion in mortgage assistance as laid out in the HEROES Act: https://t.co/MqfL9H6jbE— Houston HCDD (@HoustonHCDD) May 13, 2020