Houston city council members approved Wednesday a $15 million relief program aimed at helping renters make their payments in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
Just the day before, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the program will use federal relief money to help Houstonians pay their rent.
According city council agenda documents, Turner allotted $15 million in federal CARES Act funding for the rent relief program. The program will be managed by well-known local nonprofit BakerRipley, and it launches Thursday at 10 a.m. People who want to seek rental help can register on the program's website.
BakerRipley will provide up to $1,056 of rental assistance per month to qualified low-to-moderate income people who could not pay their April and/or May rent.
Documents show the program is anticipated to help at least 6,818 people across Houston. In reality, because many renters are families, the actual number of people helped could be much higher.
Samantha Contreas and her boyfriend lost their jobs and told ABC13 they don't know how they're going to feed her son and two pets.
"Today alone, we're trying to figure out how we're going to do dinner," said Contreras on Wednesday. "Now, it's a new month and we're getting more and more worried because, that's another month we don't know how we're going to do rent."
The program is a welcome sight for Contreras and those who really need it. It works retroactively, so those who couldn't pay April or May rent can have it forgiven if they can prove they were hit hard by the virus.
"You had to have lost your job or income in result of COVID-19. So, it's not a situation where, for example, if you have been way behind going back to say January and February. Know that's not the result of COVID-19," Turner explained.
The online portal will be open to landlords first. The landlords who agree to participate in the program will need to agree to certain terms:
- Waive all late fees, penalties and interest for the two months.
- Allow tenants to enter a payment plan for any rent due in excess of $1,056.
- Rescind any prior notice to vacate and halt any prior eviction proceedings for the two months.
"We can't force landlords to enroll into the system, but we encourage everyone to do so," said Ebony Fleming with BakerRipley. "Everyone benefits. It's not going to be able to help all people who need help. We do know that. But, the more people that enroll, the more help we can give out given the limitations of the program."
On May 13, the portal will open to tenants. For Contreras, it's a blessing.
"I was glad that Houston is trying even more and finding more ways to help everyone," she said.
When asked whether or not undocumented residents in the city will be helped by the program, Turner said they are "trying to work through that" to get the answer and since the city is working with federal funds, it has certain parameters and guidelines. In the meantime, he's calling for compassion and encourages private citizens to donate to this fund to cover that part of the population.
Not sure if you qualify? According to the proposed order, renters must meet the following criteria:
- Live inside the city of Houston
- Be late on residential rental payments for either or both the months of April and May
- Be current on their rent for all months prior to April 2020
- Affirm that their inability to pay is due to financial hardship resulting from the economic impact of COVID-19
- Have income less than 80% of the Area Median Income (approximately $40,000 for one person or $60,000 for family of four) or qualify for one of the programs listed in the application (e.g. Medicaid, WIC, SNAP, Head Start, or VA Pension)
The program already has the support of the Houston Apartment Association, which estimates it could help a number of workers in the service industry, many of whom were laid off from their jobs because of restaurant and bar closures.
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