Houston approves $159M rental relief program, as it eyes eviction grace period to help with the program's delay

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Nearly $160 million could be available in the coming weeks after Houston city leaders approved a plan Wednesday. Soon, a vote may come on a proposal to block evictions until the money is available.

The Houston City Council approved a plan to pool stimulus money with Harris County to create a joint program. City leaders said when it's ready, millions of dollars will be available to help renters.

The vote almost didn't take place.

RELATED: Houston and Harris County rent relief delayed until March

Council member Mike Knox blocked the item from a vote, saying he didn't get enough time to review the proposal. About 20 minutes later, he changed his mind.

On Tuesday, Harris County commissioners approved the same proposal.

This allows Catholic Charities and BakerRipley to distribute funds municipalities received from the federal government in the stimulus bill passed in December.

Soon, HoustonHarrisHelp.org will be available to allow landlords and tenants to apply.

Landlords will be able to apply starting Wednesday, February 18. A tenant application will be available on February 25.

It will take some time to get renters money. Catholic Charities representatives told ABC13, BakerRipley will work on applications from the 12,000 people who are on a waiting list from last year. The organization is expected to begin processing new applicants by the end of March.

Since the money won't be available for weeks, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Wednesday that he plans to ask the council to vote next week on an eviction grace period through the end of March.

"Because it is taking a little time, I will be coming to you next week to ask you to approve an ordinance to have a grace period on evictions through March 31," Turner said. "I do not think people should be evicted when this money is coming. I hope you vote for it."

In order to qualify for the rental program, tenants must have been impacted by the pandemic, and household income must be 80% below the median income. In Houston, the income threshold for a family of four is about $63,000.

Unlike previous programs, a landlord doesn't need to participate. However, landlords can apply for assistance as well.

The city and county's portal may not be running until March, but renters have another option. On Monday, the state will accept applications for its $1.3 billion rental program.

Fort Bend County, which received about $23 million in rental assistance, will have its portal operating Monday, Feb. 15, as well.

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