Rent relief should not depend on postal code. Do you hear that, Montgomery County?


When the federal moratorium on evictions ended in August, many needed help. In Texas, more than 300,000 people face deportation in the next two months, according to a Census office investigation.

To keep these people and others in their homes, and homeowners in the dark, Congress has released billions in rent relief. At least that’s how it was supposed to work. Instead, due to a mix of arrears in Austin and poor choices by some local leaders, including the Montgomery County Commissioners’ Court, some people who need this money are not getting it.

This became particularly clear in November, when Montgomery County commissioners voted to return $ 7 million in unspent rent relief to the federal government, almost a third of its allocation. The commissioners explained that residents simply did not need the federal funds and noted that as of October 1, Montgomery County had distributed less than 2% of its $ 18.2 million in first-round funding from the emergency rental assistance program.

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough said residents used a state program instead, so the responsible thing to do was to return federal aid.

But he didn’t explain why so many people in his county, like most places in Texas, were struggling to avoid eviction. What about the state program he spoke of? It’s called the Texas Rent Relief Program and it was so oversubscribed that it stopped receiving claims in early November, due to an overwhelming demand.

Perhaps the commissioners did not know that the state agenda was already overwhelmed. They would have done so if they had asked residents like Ebanisha Wiley, who was kicked out in a Montgomery County courtroom the same day they voted, to return federal aid.

“I need it,” Wiley told Houston Public Media. “I have no parents, grandparents, immediate family to turn to. It’s just me and my kids. It’s a struggle no one would understand if they weren’t there. my place.”

Wiley’s experience, and that of many others in the county who have been or will soon be evicted, directly refutes the county leaders’ claim that all that needs to be done for those still struggling in an economy that still recovering from the ongoing pandemic has been done.

Nearly 3,400 eviction cases have been filed in Montgomery County since the pandemic began in March 2020, data company January Advisors recently said. And there was already a considerable need for assistance there before the pandemic.

The need is clear. What if the county leaders didn’t know they should have. What if they knew and just refused to help, then they should ask themselves why they are in power in the first place?

Renters and homeowners struggling with pandemic conditions in Montgomery County are not alone. Need for rent relief is everywhere. In Harris County and Houston, leaders are working with local agencies to use federal aid, as well as other resources, to do their part.

A joint Harris County and City of Houston rent relief operation on Thursday helped more than 67,000 households to the tune of $ 261 million, according to a spokesperson. That’s over 90 percent of the $ 283.5 million in funding available. And immediate response assistance is also available for those actively threatened with eviction, at HoustonHarrisHelp.org.

Reducing rents is a stopgap measure, and it is not always easy. Sorting out tenants who can’t pay from those who just don’t want to pay can be difficult. But assistance is not just for tenants. When tenants don’t pay, it hurts landlords too.

In Harris County in 2019, the eviction rate was 8.8%, according to the Harris County and Houston Housing Condition Report 2021 from Rice’s Kinder Institute. The actual eviction rate was 4.5 percent. Although evictions decreased in the first year of the pandemic, in part thanks to the moratorium, they are increasing again now.

Experts say the long-term solution is to address the lack of affordable housing. Even before the pandemic, there was not enough affordable housing in the area, and the backlog of vouchers and other housing assistance continued for years in some cases. The sudden loss of income associated with the pandemic has only made matters worse.

Jay Malone, political director of the Texas Gulf Coast Region Federation of Labor, told us last week that help could be on the horizon: the Build Back Better Act, if passed by the Senate, includes essential vouchers to help people pay for their housing.

Whether you can get rent relief, avoid eviction, stay in your own home, shouldn’t depend on where you live.

Each of us, at some time, has needed the help of another person when difficulties arise. Leaders in places like Harris County and Houston, where officials work hard to connect those in need with available federal help, understand this. Others who don’t show as much urgency or even concern should remember their duty to stand up for the people they have been elected to serve, especially when they are struggling to cope.


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