More COVID-19 relief available for some small businesses and Houston-area renters

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A new $159 million rental assistance relief fund will start accepting renter's applications on Thursday. The Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program will allow both renters and landlords to apply and get funding within days of processing, according to Natalie Wood, senior vice president of programs for Catholic Charities.

Harris County and the city of Houston are funneling the program through Baker Ripley and Catholic Charities. Landlords can already enroll and renters' applications will be accepted starting on Thursday.

Wood said the program is not on a first-come, first-serve basis.

"Individuals, of course, will be randomly selected," Wood said. "We are going to prioritize [the] most vulnerable."

Applicants will also have help from several local nonprofits that will stand as "navigator agencies" to help families complete the application process at a nearby location.

"As soon as we get the documentation required by the client and the landlord and we are able to process it, they can have money within days of processing," Wood said.

Families that qualify could be able to get up to 12 months of rental assistance.

Renter's and landlords can apply through the HoustonHarrisHelp website, where you can find frequently-asked-questions and a list of the required documents. Starting on Thursday a special phone line will also be open at 832-402-7568 to help answer questions.

Some small businesses that did not previously qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan can start applying Wednesday, Feb. 24.

President Joe Biden's administration and the U.S. Small Business Administration made changes to the criteria for the Paycheck Protection Program to ensure that small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, could receive the COVID-19 relief aid they need.

"Actually, it's the majority of businesses," said Deputy Director Mark Winchester with the SBA Houston District office. "There are over 750,000 small businesses in Houston and 618,000 of those small businesses are businesses with less than 20 employees."

The 14-day exclusivity period started on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, at 9 a.m., while the other four changes will be implemented by the first week of March.

Sarah Lieberman, owner of Dandelion Café, said when the pandemic hit businesses the hardest last year, she had to lay off some of her employees and applied for two different loans including the PPP. Lieberman said it helped keep her business afloat.

"Once we had the PPP, we were able to bring everyone back on and we've actually grown and brought on even more people over the past few months which is very exciting," Lieberman said.

She said her business does not qualify this time around, but is relieved to hear others who have not received PPP previously, will be able to do so now.

"It is a lifeline." Winchester said. "Businesses are struggling right now because of the pandemic and they need cash flow and with the PPP these small businesses will be able to access additional capital."

For more details from the SBA, click here.

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