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Texas Rent Relief to stop taking new applications after 70,000 people sign up on Day 1

 A sign at a vaccination clinic in Arlington advertises a rental assistance program. A similar state-run rental assistance program was the subject of a report that found very few Texans have been able to get help more than a month after the program's launch.
Christopher Connelly
A sign at a vaccination clinic in Arlington advertises a rental assistance program. A similar state-run rental assistance program was the subject of a report that found very few Texans have been able to get help more than a month after the program's launch.

Update: The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs announced Wednesday that it would stop taking applications for rental assistance at 11:59 a.m. on Thursday.

Originally, the Texas Rent Relief program planned to take new applications for two weeks. But after more than 70,000 applications were submitted in the first 24 hours of reopening the application portal, the agency said in a statement that requests for assistance will likely outstrip the funds available.

Applicants facing eviction will be prioritized, the agency said, and those who have started filling out an application must finish uploading all required documents and submit the application before noon on Thursday.

The agency has about $96 million remaining to help renters catch up on rent and utility bills. Under the Texas Rent Relief Program, renters facing financial hardship can apply for up to 18 months of rent and utility assistance.

Applications can be made via the online portal, or by calling 833-9TX-RENT (833-989-7368).

Those facing eviction should get legal help, go to any eviction hearing and stay in communication with their landlord and the court, a department press release states. Housing attorneys often remind people that they can’t be forced to leave until they’ve had a court hearing a judge signs an eviction order.

People who have never received rental assistance from the state program can apply. So can those who have previously gotten rent help, but only if they haven’t received the maximum 18 months-worth of funding.

Homeowners facing financial hardship can also get help from the state through a federally funded mortgage assistance program approved by Congress to help out during the pandemic.

The brief application window comes at a time when many Texas renters are struggling with major increases in rent and high inflation. Evictions have been on the rise, surpassing pre-pandemic levels in some areas.

Hours after the portal opened on Tuesday, TDHCA Executive Director Bobby Wilkinson told Houston Public Media that thousands of applications had already come in.

“The average payout has been somewhere around $6,500 or so in the past, but we've had some some big ones people that were way behind and hadn't yet gotten evicted,” Wilkinson said.

But Erin Hahn from the advocacy group Texas Housers told Texas Public Radio that the state legislature can and should do more to help, especially given the state’s massive budget surplus.

“The $96 million that they have currently available is not enough to meet all the need for rental assistance that exists in the state of Texas. And the Texas Legislature is currently making decisions about how to spend a $32 billion budget surplus,” Hahn said.

In 2021, Texas received a $3.4 billion to help renters stay housed as the pandemic upended life and work.. The state program got the bulk of the money, and has helped more than 300,000 Texans, likely holding back a tsunami of evictions.

The state struggled early to set up the massive assistance program. KERA documented problems in the program, including one man who was evicted after the program paid the wrong landlord. According the CBS DFW, the state has tried to claw back millions in misspent funds.

The statewide Texas Rent Relief program stopped taking new applications in late 2021 because funds were expected to run out. Local programs have closed as well.

The largest cities and counties in Texas were given nearly $1 billion in rental assistance funds. A report from the housing policy and advocacy group Texas Housers found locally administered rental assistance programs had mixed success, and the federal government took back about $30 million in funds meant to help Texans.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Christopher Connelly is a KERA reporter based in Fort Worth. Christopher joined KERA after a year and a half covering the Maryland legislature for WYPR, the NPR member station in Baltimore. Before that, he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow at NPR – one of three post-graduates who spend a year working as a reporter, show producer and digital producer at network HQ in Washington, D.C.
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