Judge Lincoln Goodwin’s courthouse in northwest Harris County.
Judge Lincoln Goodwin’s courthouse in northwest Harris County. Photo by Jen Rice/Houston Public Media. Credit: Jen Rice/Houston Public Media.

If you’re struggling to pay the rent or utility bills, the Texas Rent Relief Program is reopening its application portal now through March 28.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs says first-time applicants may be eligible for up to 18 months of rent and/or utility assistance for past due bills, and up to three months of future payments, which will be made directly to landlords or utilities.

The state has about $96 million remaining in it’s rent relief fund, which has provided over $2 billion in emergency aid since 2020. It initially closed in November 2021.

“The average payout has been somewhere around $6,500 or so in the past, but we’ve had some big ones for people that were way behind and hadn’t yet gotten evicted,” said Bobby Wilkinson, executive director, Texas Department of Houston and Community Affairs.

Texas has made payments to more than 315,000 households to date, and prevented more than 21,000 evictions. Wilkinson said in order to be eligible, a household needs to be financially within 80% of their area’s median income or below, and they must be renters.

“Our preference is to pay the landlord directly, or the utility provider directly. That seems to make the most sense, and is the most efficient. But if we can get in touch with that landlord, or they don’t want to participate, we’re going send that check to the tenant,” Wilkinson said.

First-time applicants may be eligible to receive up to 18 months of rent and utility relief this time around, either with past due payments, or a combination of past due and up to three months of current and future payments, made on their behalf.

Wilkinson said they have already received over 4,000 applications on its first day and they are first-come-first-served, but eviction applications will be prioritized.

Local housing advocates are praising the move to reopen, saying the need for assistance on month-to-month expenses is still great, as the impacts of the pandemic continue to drag on. Texas Housers says 270,000 evictions were filed in the state of Texas in 2022. Advocates say even more can be done to prevent further evictions.

Erin Hahn is a research analyst with Texas Housers. She said although it’s been three years since the COVID-19 pandemic started, it still makes sense for money to be distributed for assistance.

“Renters are definitely still struggling in the fallout of the pandemic,” she said. “In 2022 we saw a huge spike of evictions in Texas. Over 270,000 were filed in the state of Texas in 2022, which is a huge rise from previous years.”

After funds are exhausted, Hahn said they are hoping for more tenants’ rights laws and additional funding from the State of Texas.

“The Texas Legislature is currently making decisions on how to spend a $32 billion budget surplus. And they also have $5 billion in remaining American Rescue Plan funds that they have to spend this session,” Hahn said. “These funds could be used to replenish Texas rent relief.”

TDHCA says applications will be processed in the order received, prioritizing those facing evictions. Those applicants should submit their court docket number.

You can apply through the Texas Rent Relief website at www.texasrentrelief.com or call (833) 9TX-RENT (833-989-7368).