Houston-Harris County Rental Fund Reaches Nearly $200 Million Benchmark in Just 7 Months, Helping 51,000 Families and Garnering Praise from White House and Nat’l Press

$86 Million in New Aid Added; Local Program Among First to Receive Add’l Funds

The Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) has surpassed another significant milestone by providing almost $200 million in rental relief since late February, helping 51,000 families who are struggling financially because of continued pandemic-related job cuts and wage decreases.  On average, up to $6 million in aid is going out the door every week.

An additional $86 million in rental relief is coming into the program, and the U.S. Treasury Department announced last week that the Houston-Harris County program will be among the first to receive the new influx of aid, given how quickly the initial funds have been disseminated to help people in need.

This summer, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo visited Houston to see the program first-hand, calling it “one of the nation’s strongest local ERA [Emergency Rental Assistance] programs” and noting it is run by a “regional partnership through two high-capacity, culturally competent non-profit agencies.”  Those two agencies, BakerRipley and Catholic Charities, have decades of experience with disaster response and are trusted by Houston’s most vulnerable populations.

Leaders from the local program have testified before Congress and spoken at White House round-tables about how the four-way collaboration (City, County, and both nonprofits) has cut red tape and sped up payments to landlords, keeping families from being evicted.  National media outlets have acknowledged the partnership’s efficiency.  The Washington Post recently called the program “one of the nation’s exemplars,” with additional attention from The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, NPR, Politico, and Congressional Quarterly.

“We are incredibly proud of the effectiveness of our program, which has passed 50,000 households served,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.  “With the leadership of the City and County, the administrative expertise of BakerRipley and Catholic Charities, and the strong neighborhood ties of our nonprofit navigators, we have been able to dedicate almost $200 million to keep our neighbors in their homes. The success of our approach goes to show that we are strongest when we work together to support our community members.”

“From the beginning, Harris County partnered with the City to make the Emergency Rental Assistance Program a seamless experience, distributing funds quickly to intercept the eviction process.  We’ve shown what can happen when you’re flexible, innovative and put people ahead of bureaucracy,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.  “We pulled together with a sense of urgency because we recognize so many families simply cannot wait for help to arrive.  I’m proud that by July, we set a national standard with 92% of all our assistance funds already spent so that our residents could keep their homes.”

Program efficiency was increased this year by instituting a uniform set of rules and eligibility requirements for City and County tenants alike, plus a streamlined enrollment process for landlords, which has attracted more than 11,000 landlords representing almost 21,000 properties.  Creating ease-of-use has been pivotal, since the program serves the 3rd most-populous county in the U.S. and the 4th most-populous city in the U.S., a region where 145+ languages are spoken.

Providing high-touch assistance for families struggling the most has been crucial.  Tenants who face technological or language barriers can get assistance from eight “navigator” agencies, who can help them apply and can connect them with other aid for which they might qualify.  And for families already embroiled in the eviction process, the agency The Alliance operates an eviction intervention program which detours cases out of court and works with judges and landlords to expedite rent relief approval.  This initiative has directly prevented nearly 700 families from becoming homeless.

There have also been 21 live sign-up events spread far and wide across the region where families get socially-distanced help from volunteers who scan their documents and submit their applications in real-time.  The AFL-CIO organizes these events, coordinating 500+ volunteers from 40 organizations.  As many as 1,200 people receive help at each event.

“During the pandemic, we’ve heard from workers across the country who have experienced housing instability due to lost jobs and income, and know the toll that has taken on them and their families,” said Liz Shuler, president of the national AFL-CIO.  “In the labor movement, we believe we have a responsibility to do all we can to help our neighbors in their time of need.  Right now, that means doing our part to keep working families housed, and by partnering with community allies and local leaders, we can greatly expand the reach and impact of our efforts.”

“The Eviction Intervention Program has helped hundreds of families stay in their homes,” said President and CEO of The Alliance Daniel Stoecker.  “We have a dedicated team that has been on the ground, connecting our local landlords and families in need to this critical resource. Our outreach in the community and in the courts has been successful in ensuring that tenants facing eviction are able to get assistance quickly.

“I am extremely proud of the work that Harris County and our partners have done to keep families housed during this unprecedented public health and economic crisis,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “As much as we would like it to be over, we are still in a pandemic, and the need to keep families housed is just as great as it was when the pandemic began.”

“This second batch of funding will be put to work immediately to help thousands of struggling renters and landlords,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.  “We are thankful for the Treasury Department’s recognition of our hard work, and I’m confident that we will continue to keep people housed and our economy moving until this crisis becomes just a memory.”

“The amount of assistance and the speed at which funding has been allocated is genuinely remarkable,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, P.E.  “This program’s success reaffirms how important it is to work together. We can accomplish great things for our constituents through bipartisan partnerships, and I know we will continue to do so.”

“Tenants and landlords have been among the hardest hit economically by the COVID pandemic, and none of us can truly cross the finish line of full recovery until ALL of us cross that line,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle. “I’m glad that the federal government recognizes that Harris County has been an efficient and effective steward of these rental assistance funds, and I look forward to the day we won’t need them anymore.”

Federal guidelines now cover up to 18 months of COVID-related overdue and future rent for tenants.  People who received help early on can reapply, to request aid for months that were not covered in their first application.

The program is ongoing.  Tenants are encouraged to visit HoustonHarrisHelp.org, where they can find the application, eligibility requirements, FAQs, a landlord directory, and a status checker.  A phone line is available at 832-402-7568 six days a week: Monday–Friday 9am–6pm and Saturday 10am–2pm.