Texas is launching a new program next week to help people across the state who are struggling to pay their rent and utility bills during the pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday.
The Texas Rent Relief Program will be run by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The state is using the more than $1 billion in money from the latest federal COVID-19 stimulus bill to provide funding for the program.
The program will begin accepting applications on Monday, Feb. 15. Here's what you need to know before applications open.
The state has already launched a website for the program, where both landlords and tenants facing a pile of bills will be able to apply starting at 8 a.m. Monday.
The program will also have a call center open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for Texans to use to apply and ask other questions: 1-833-9TX-RENT (1-833-989-7368).
What can the money be used for
The program will provide relief for renters with bills that are dated as far back as March 13, 2020, or 11 months of past due bills, and current bills.
Texans will also be eligible to receive help for three months of future expected rent costs and utility expenses. They'll be able to then apply for three more months of future aid following that if funds remain at the time.
Landlords can also apply for unpaid or future rent on behalf of their tenants, as long as the money is used towards the tenant's rental obligations and the tenant agrees.
All payments will be made directly to landlords or utility providers, according to the state, unless they do not agree to accept the payment. If that's the case, the money will be given to the tenant to use after a 21-day period.
Here's how to qualify
The state has put together a quick quiz sheet to help Texans see if they qualify for the program. Click here to check.
To be eligible to get the aid, Texans must make at or less than 80% of their Area Median Income, a figure used by the TDCHA. Click here to see what that figure is in your county.
One member of their household must also have qualified for unemployment benefits or explain in writing that they've experienced some kind of financial hardship during the pandemic.
Applicants also must be at risk of becoming homeless because they've received past due notices or an eviction notice, or face unsafe living conditions. To get the assistance, the unit must be your main residence and have a Texas address.
Tenants will also need to let their landlords know they are planning to apply and get them to sign off, officials said.
Texans can not apply for the funds if their bills have already been paid for by another assistance program.
Homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments do not qualify for this program, but the state is directing Texans dealing with those problems here.
Who will be prioritized
Texans who are a part of one of two groups will be given priority when it comes to handing out the funding if they apply by Feb. 28, officials said.
Those groups are:
- Texans with an income at or below their Area Median Income
- Texans with a household member who was unemployed when they applied for the aid and someone in the household had previously been unemployed for 90 days before the application
People in the priority groups should apply before Feb. 28, according to the state.
Some of the money for the program has also specifically been set aside for people who are being sued for by their landlords for eviction already in local courts. Those tenants will still need to apply in the same way, but that portion of funds will only be used for Texans in that situation.
Needed documents and application status
Officials urge those who think they are eligible to begin getting their application materials ready now so they can apply as soon as the process opens.
What will you need?
- A government or public school ID for at least one person on the lease
- Copy of rent or lease agreement
- Notices of late payments, eviction, if applicable
- Copies of past due utility bills
- Income documentation for everyone over the age of 18 (examples include W2, 1099-R, check stubs from an employer, unemployment benefits letter, pension or retirement benefit letter, gross wages letter from employer, etc.)
Once they have those gathered, Texans can track their application's status using the state's online dashboard or call the program's phone line at 1-833-9TX-RENT (1-833-989-7368).
If the state needs additional information, they will notify applicants. And if someone is deemed ineligible for the program, they will be able to appeal, according to the state's website.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a significant financial strain on many Texans, and the Texas Rent Relief Program will provide an incredible lifeline to households in need of assistance on their rent and utility payments," Gov. Abbott said in an announcement about the program.
Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan added that the program will able to provide much-needed short-term assistance to families that are still struggling.
"This program is a key component of our state’s pandemic recovery effort and will be essential to the rebound of our economy, workforce, and education system," he explained. "I am thrilled that qualifying Texas families have an avenue for temporary relief on essential items like rent and utility payments when it truly counts the most."
Want to know more about the program or have other questions? Click here.