HOUSTON — For northeast Harris County resident Sam Smith, the thought of no longer having a place to live has become a very real possibility.
“It’s really scary. When you’re going out looking for a job and you don’t know when you come home at 5 in the evening if you’re going to be locked out of your apartment or not," Smith said.
Smith used to be an after-school music teacher but was laid off at the start of the pandemic. He was served a “Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit” last month.
But there is help available. Two different programs are providing assistance:
Rental Relief (Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program)
- Can pay overdue rent back to the beginning of COVID + 2 months forward.
- Functions as a makeshift moratorium, because if an applicant's landlord is also enrolled, a tenant who has applied can't be evicted. Even if they haven't been approved yet. (The protection starts when the tenant applies, if the landlord is in the system, too).
- Random selection, not first come/first served.
- The program was allocated $195.5M in total. $155.7M has been disbursed, helping 41K families.
- There are almost 20,000 properties in the system, so it's very likely that someone's landlord has already enrolled.
- This program is on a rolling basis, with no deadline.
Direct aid (Harris County Recovery Assistance):
- Pays an applicant directly. Not a landlord.
- Provides $1,500 for any urgent expense (housing, car payment, medical bills, groceries, utilities.)
- Only open for two weeks; ended 8/11.
- People can (and should) apply for both; the programs are NOT exclusive.
- Also random selection, not first come/first served.
“So many families who were living paycheck-to-paycheck before (and have) back bills that they have to pay and, unfortunately, perhaps less employment to do so,” Catholic Charities CEO Cynthia Colbert said.
Local representatives like Rep. Sylvia Garcia have advocated for the moratorium to be extended with billions of dollars in aid that, so far, hasn’t made it to renters’ pockets. While the money has been distributed to states and localities or is in process, she says only $3 billion of $46 billion has actually made it into their hands.
“That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of help that people need to put a roof over their heads and landlords to be able to recover some of their dollars,” Garcia said.
Smith said he’s hoping for both an extension and understanding.
“People need help. People are struggling right now, Smith said.
There’s also a free event Tuesday night from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. where interested families can get one-on-one help to sign up for the new $30 million direct assistance fund, which again is only accepting applications thru Wed 8/11.
It will be located at:
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 716 Hall
- 1475 N Loop W, Houston, TX 77008
For tenants who cannot attend but wish to apply: FAQs, required documentation, and eligibility requirements are at HarrisCountyRelief.org. People with questions can call 832-345-6289, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.