HOUSTON — For a Harris County landlord, an 11-month wait for rent relief left her in a “catch-22” situation.
Connie Cases and her husband make a living through an automotive accessory shop and three rental houses. The property is located in North Harris County near the Hardy Toll Road and Aldine Westfield.
When one of her renters lost his job at the end of December 2020, Cases and the renter both applied for rent help with Texas Rent Relief. The program is run by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
“The rent relief paid us for the five months and told us we could be approved for more funding,” Cases recalled.
But that second round of rent relief never happened and that put Cases in landlord limbo. She wanted to evict.
“The judge is like, 'No you can’t evict them if you’re going through any kind of assistance through Harris County or the state. You cannot evict your tenant or you won't get paid,'" she recalled being told.
To see when Cases could get some help, KHOU 11 News contacted Texas Rent Relief. According to the website, the program has helped nearly 310,000 Texas families with more than $2 billion in rent and utility payments.
A spokesperson couldn’t give us specifics on this case, but sent us this statement."
“In December 2021, TRR notified all pending applicants that the program had committed more than 95% of total funding. Notifications were subsequently sent in January, February and March of this year to inform applicants that they would not be likely to receive assistance from TRR, and advised individuals to seek assistance from other resources. We provided a list of potential resources to applicants, which included local city/county programs still actively processing applications, the link for TDHCA’s Help For Texans webpage to search for other emergency rental assistance, or calling 2-1-1 to learn about organizations in the local community that may be of help.
Due to the total requests for assistance exceeding all Texas Rent Relief funds available, the program will not be able to assist everyone who applied. Priority is still be given to eviction cases (those applicants that provide a court docket number)."
In other words, help isn’t coming.
We found the tenant. His name is Scott Helton.
“Every month, it was on time, you know, until everything fell apart,” Helton explained. He lost his job during the pandemic and believed that Texas Rent Relief would pay a second time.
“They actually contacted me and invited me to a second round up to 15 months and they never came through with the money” Helton said.
“Do you have any money you can pay for rent?" reporter Tiffany Craig asked him.
“I can’t even buy food,” he said. “I have nothing. That car is sitting right there. I have nothing."
Helton and Cases also applied for local help through the Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program and said they were told that all that money was gone.
A spokesperson for the local fund said that they’ve assisted more than 70,000 tenants with about $277 million.
A spokesperson from the Houston-Harris County program said in a statement:
"No other program in Houston's history has been able to help so many people keep their homes. However, the heartbreaking reality is that many Houstonians are still struggling to make ends meet, and the applications far exceed the remaining money. This program was intended to be an emergency stopgap, but the needs in our community are greater than what this program can address."
Through all the applying and waiting, Cases says she’s out more than $10,000 in rent money.
“If I would have been able to evict him, I could already be making money on this rent house but Texas told me not to evict him,” she said. “We’re in a catch-22 situation."
Cases and Helton will be back in court later this month. Cases plans to go through with the eviction process this time.
In March 2022, Texas Rent Relief received additional funding to the tune of $47.8 million from the U.S. Treasury Department. New applications are not being accepted. TRR is processing applications already in the system.
The Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program also got almost $27 million additional dollars to help renters. The local fund is accepting applications for renters with active case or cause numbers.
Application information and resources for Harris County and Houston residents can be found on this website.
If you’re facing eviction anywhere in Texas, there’s free legal advice and resources available at the Texas Law Help website or call 1- 855-270-7655.