Houston Landlords Will Vie For $15 Million In Emergency Rental Assistance

Some council members pushed back on the plan and acknowledged the funding represents a fraction of the need for rental assistance in the city.

Mayor Sylvester Turner at a press conference Monday, April 6, 2020.

Updated 12:22 p.m. CT May 7: The website will open to tenants beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 13. The city on Thursday clarified funding will be allocated first-come, first-served based on when tenants apply, not landlords.

Landlords in Houston can apply for the city’s $14.4 million fund to help cover April and May rent for some households, after a Houston City Council vote Wednesday. 

The city of Houston has $404 million of federal funding from the CARES Act in the bank to spend on COVID-19 relief. On Wednesday, City Council approved Mayor Sylvester Turner’s plan to allocate $15 million of that funding for rent relief — with $14.4 million going to landlords, and the rest of it covering an administrative fee paid to local nonprofit Baker Ripley, which will run the program.

Despite pushback from council members who said the funding represents a fraction of the need for rental assistance in the city, the measure passed unanimously. 

Under the plan, landlords will apply to participate in the program and agree to forgive all late fees and penalties, set up payment plans for back rent, and halt prior eviction proceedings. After landlords apply to the program, their tenants will be able to apply for funding. 

The $14.4 million is intended to cover April and May rent for around 7,000 households. But the day before the vote, more than a dozen housing advocates with the advocacy group the Metropolitan Organization told council that renters need at least 10 times that amount — around $150 million. 

Houston lags behind some other Texas cities on providing emergency funding — in Austin, funding went out before rent was due on May 1.

Landlords can begin applying for relief Thursday morning. Their tenants can begin applying for relief on May 13. Funding will be allocated first-come, first-served based on when tenants apply. 

When Harris County opened applications for a $10 million small business loan fund in April, the website closed within a day due to heavy demand. 

Several council members pushed back on Turner’s plan, arguing over the terms of the deal and complaining the mayor didn’t give them an opportunity to weigh in, like District J Council member Edward Pollard.

“When you have $15 million and you have a limited amount of people who can apply, you have all the leverage to put all the parameters in place to get the best deal possible,” Pollard said. “The unfortunate part is, we’re just now getting the details now, so on first glance now we see things that we possibly could go back to the negotiating table and talked through.”

But District E Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin argued it’s an emergency item, and they shouldn’t delay the vote. 

“I have a serious problem with the contract. I have a problem with Baker Ripley being able to choose winners and losers,” Martin said. “But when you look at the contract and the rapid pace it went through and the totality of the agreement, I think it makes sense at this point in time. I think delaying this any further is going to harm the very people we are trying to help.”