HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Just two days after the application portal for Texas Rent Relief reopened, the state announced that it's closing again because it has been inundated with applicants who are desperate for help.
More than 70,000 applications were submitted just within the first 24 hours, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs said.
The agency said previously the highest number of applications it saw in a single day was less than 20,000 when the portal first opened in 2021.
The application window was originally set to close two weeks after it opened, on March 28. Instead, it closed early at noon on Thursday.
Applicant Tammy Burns was able to submit her documents before it closed.
"It was very frustrating in the beginning," Burns recalled. "It really was. I'm sure it wasn't just for me. Looking at how fast it went. It wasn't just for me, it was for a lot of people," she said.
The agency said closing the portal early will help ensure staff can more quickly review applications and distribute the funds.
The Texas Rent Relief program helped hundreds of thousands of Texans pay their rent and utility bills during the coronavirus pandemic. This time, the state restarted the program with $96 million, and it will probably be the last time the help is made available.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Texas rent relief program will soon be accepting new applications
The money can be used for past due rent or future rent, and it can be used for past due utility bills or future utility bills. State officials say the money will help keep people in their homes.
The program is for those on unemployment, or otherwise impacted during the pandemic. If you received help in the past, you can apply again.
Applicants facing eviction will be prioritized for help as long as their application includes a valid eviction docket number, the agency said.
Before the applications closed on Thursday, the website experienced trouble when it first launched on Tuesday.
READ MORE: What you need to do to receive rental assistance from Texas' relief program
If you missed the deadline to apply, you'll have another chance to apply for legal help if you're facing eviction.
Harris County commissioners are considering a proposal for a $4 million American Rescue Plan Fund to Lone Star Legal Aid and Neighborhood Defender Service, intended to help with legal fees as renters fight evictions.
The county said the fund would nearly double the current legal aid.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee spoke about the need for proper representation in legal matters involving eviction.
"People in this county shouldn't have to worry about if they find themselves in similar circumstances, that they are gonna have to stand up in court and advocate on their own behalf," Menefee said. "Instead, the county is going to do its part. The city is going to do its part to put money up, to ensure that these folks are represented just as zealously as every single landlord in this county."
The county's legal assistance application will go live on March 27.
Another option could be coming from Austin. Texas Housers, a housing advocacy group for low-income Texans, said its members are watching legislation in Austin. Some bills target a seven-day grace period for renters to settle back rent before an eviction would be served.
"This is not a radical proposition," Ben Martin, Texas Housers research director, explained. "This is in line with almost all southern states and conservative states."
Martin said building more affordable housing would help too. He said the stigma that comes with affordable housing impacts new projects.
Martin said research shows affordable housing doesn't bring crime, but hope. "
If a family with an older child and a younger child moves into a higher opportunity, wealthier neighborhood, chances are that younger child is actually going to outperform their older siblings in adulthood in terms of earnings," Martin explained.
State housing leaders told ABC13 another rental assistance program may never come again. Martin believes it should.
He said with more than $30 billion in a budget surplus, state leaders should consider giving it back to renters, who make up nearly 40% of all Texans.