AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) has launched a program aimed at assisting Texans with rent and utility payments during the pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office announced.

The program will administer more than $1 billion allocated to the Lone Star State from federal stimulus funding.

According to information from the governor’s office, TDHCA will start accepting applications Feb. 15.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a significant financial strain on many Texans, and the Texas Rent Relief Program will provide an incredible lifeline to households in need of assistance on their rent and utility payments,” Gov. Abbott stated.

TDHCA’s executive director Bobby Wilkinson says he is preparing for more than one million Texans to apply, following survey results showing how worried people are about their ability to pay the next month’s rent.

“As far as who we are going to be able to serve— certainly tens of thousands, maybe 80,000 households,” Wilkinson said in a Tuesday interview. ‘It’s hard to say, because each applicant would have various amounts of back rent and we have a finite amount of money.”

Qualifying households must be “at or below 80% of the area median income,” and meet other criteria, Abbott’s office indicated. TDHCA will prioritize applications for households at or below 50% of the area median income level and households where one or more members are currently unemployed and have been for at least 90 days, according to the press release.

“Better late than never, I think,” Rachel Wirtz, who opted to build a bed in her car rather than pay rent, said. “There are so many people that are still struggling.”

Households must also demonstrate a risk of homelessness or housing instability by providing an eviction notice or “past-due” utility or rent notice, in addition to unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions. Requestors can ask for assistance for costs dating as far back as March 13, 2020.

“While this may be late in coming, it’s going to be truly a great program for a lot of families, so that they can help at least pay the bills,” El Paso landlord Demetrio Jimenez said Tuesday.

“This will certainly help quite a few property management companies keep the doors open, as well as keep a lot of families from becoming homeless,” he added.

“This program is a key component of our state’s pandemic recovery effort and will be essential to the rebound of our economy, workforce, and education system,” Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said. “I am thrilled that qualifying Texas families have an avenue for temporary relief on essential items like rent and utility payments when it truly counts the most.”

Landlords and tenants can submit applications by calling 1-833-9TX-RENT (1-833-989-7368) Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. through 6 p.m. or by entering information online at

“The pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to many Texas families,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement.

“The Texas Rent Relief program is for those Texans who need help to pay rent and utility bills and I encourage those who need it to apply,” Patrick continued. “These resources will provide support for Texas families who need it while our economy continues to recover.”

Photojournalist Frank Martinez contributed to this report.