Harris County approves $15M Emergency Rental Assistance Program

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For many renters, the start of the month is a sense of dread. Rent is due, and yet, they are out of work because of COVID-19.

So far, every major county in the Houston region has provided some rental assistance program, but the demand has usually far outstripped supply.

"The problem is the fees," said Lashelle Scott, a renter who is working, but not as much as she did before the pandemic. "When I catch up, it's the fees. Even when the third or fourth month hit, it's piling on."

Scott counts herself as lucky. She got some rental relief from the city of Houston's program a few months ago.

In addition, her apartment complex has been willing to work with her, allowing her to pay whenever she gets a paycheck.

For residents in Harris County who are still struggling with rent, more help is on the way.

The Harris County Commissioners Court approved a $15 million Emergency Rental Assistance Program to help serve low-income residents on Tuesday.

The $15 million program will be in addition to the $30 million in assistance already distributed.

Commissioners said this program comes after researchers estimated that the poverty rate would increase from 12.8 percent to 16.3 percent this year.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program will provide a one time payment of $1,000 per household across all Harris County precincts to be used for rent and fee payments directly to landlords.

In addition, the Harris County Commissioners Court also unanimously voted in support of the COVID-19 Permanent Housing Initiative, which will bring together local organizations to house 5,000 people over two years.

The initiative will be funded by Harris County, the city of Houston and private philanthropy.

Commissioners have not yet announced how to apply for the additional help, but information should be coming in a few weeks.

In the meantime, the Houston Apartment Association has gathered a list of non-profits that are using private money to help renters. Calling each non-profit does take some work, but it's been helpful for many tenants.

"Montgomery County, Fort Bend County and Harris all have had rental assistance programs available," said Stephanie Graves of Q10 Properties, which owns a number of rental units in the greater Houston area. "They have been a lifeline for us, and we can't communicate enough that these resources are available."

Graves said what has worked best for her tenants, is an open line of communication.

They are happy to work with tenants on payment plans and offer rental assistance guidance.

"So, making payment plans. If you say, 'I can pay you $100 or $200,' most landlords are willing to work with you," Graves said.

All these resources are important because advocates are worried that evictions could skyrocket in the coming months.

"If a resident doesn't pay for several months, it's so hard to catch up," Graves said.

According to Texas Housers, a low income housing advocacy group, 518 evictions were filed across Harris County between June 23 and June 30th.

On average, around 5,700 evictions are filed every June in Harris County. In June of 2020, 2283 evictions were filed.

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