Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Friday a second rental assistance program aimed at helping those dealing with hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis.
When the first program rolled out in May, the rental assistance application process had to be suspended after less than two hours because so many peopled tried to apply.
BakerRipley, who administered the first round of relief, has since tweaked the program and is expected to administer this second round as well.
Under the first program, renters had to live within Houston city limits to be eligible for up to $1,056 per month. Landlords and tenants were required to sign up.
The first program was designed to help about 8,000 families.
This new program will have $19 million dollars. Fifteen million will be from the federal government, and $4 million from private donations. The private funding will allow the program to help Houstonians who may not have met federal funding requirements.
Sam Smith, who was laid off after the temp agency he worked for closed up shop during the pandemic, is a bit apprehensive about applying again. He has already been turned down once.
"It's frustrating because you apply for it, you think you'll get help, you don't," said Smith, who finally got an unemployment check after months of trying "I think these kind of programs, they already know people they're going to assist already."
Smith says he was three months behind on rent, and used almost his entire unemployment check to pay the back rent.
Instead of a first come, first serve criteria, applicants in the second round will be put into an eligibility matrix. The most needy renters will get the relief first.
Still, the Mayor admits, the relief won't be enough.
"I am pleading with Congress, the President, with our state officials to join us in providing additional assistance and support to people who need our help the very most," said Turner. "If we work together, I believe we can benefit a lot of families. And especially, especially our children."
Housing advocates, though, have pushed for an eviction grace period. They point to eviction filings plummeting from January's 6,500 to just 600 in April, but now are creeping back up. Turner has resisted a formal ordinance, instead announcing that the Houston Apartment Association, which represents 3,000 landlords, will offer a voluntary eviction grace period.
"I'm going to apply again and see what happens, but I don't know," said Smith, who is able to stay in his apartment complex for now.
Houston City Council is expected to approve the $19 million rental relief plan next Wednesday. After its formal passage, BakerRipley will then set up an online application process.
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