Houston-Harris County rental assistance suspends applications

The Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a pandemic-era program that distributed federal funds to landlords of tenants financially impacted by COVID, will stop accepting applications for rental assistance indefinitely beginning Nov. 1.

The program, which led the nation in distributing aid quickly, has spent nearly all of the funds it received from the federal government. Of the roughly $320 million the program had received, less than $11 million remains, said the program’s spokesperson, Joy Partain. Since the applications already in the pipeline are requesting more than $40 million, Partain said the program had chosen to suspend its acceptance of new applications.

“It is unfair to accept even more applications that cannot be funded,” she said in an email.

Houston and Harris County’s rental assistance program, which had run low on funds at the start of the year, has been kept alive by infusions of funds as the Treasury Department, which has been reallocating funds from local governments slow to disburse rent relief to those that have distributed theirs more quickly.

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Houston and Harris County were beneficiaries, receiving more than $14.5 million in additional funding.

The program also stretched funds by focusing its dwindling resources on tenants at the greatest risk of losing their homes. While in 2021, landlords could receive rent money as soon as tenants fell behind, this year, the program focused on allocating funds to landlords who had already filed for evictions.

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After that change, the number of evictions filed picked up dramatically. In some cases, landlords and judges moved to have constables remove some tenants from their homes despite the fact that they had applied for rental assistance and were awaiting word about whether they were eligible and had been selected for aid. Tenants lawyers have protested such evictions, filing suit in one instance against the judge and asking a higher court to weigh in on whether the judge had followed the law.

While there is still the chance that Houston and Harris County will continue receiving reallocations, each new round of funding is smaller than the last, Partain explained. The most recent round was announced last week, with Harris County receiving $1.35 million in additional funds and Houston receiving $846,000. Partain said the small size of the recent reallocations, compared with the funds applicants in the pipeline have requested, led the local rental assistance program to suspend its intake of new applications. It may resume applications if it receives enough reallocated funds.

Ace of Oct. 24, the Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program had distributed $311 million to eligible families, according to its website. Out of 195,000 applications submitted, 76,000 families received aid.

The program is proud of the impact the rental assistance funding has had.

“No other program in Houston’s history has been able to help that many people keep their homes,” Partain said. “But although the reallocations have been welcome, these funds will not continue indefinitely. This program was never intended to become part of the region’s long-term housing plan—the funds are a temporary stopgap.”



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