AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Just 52 hours after Texas opened applications for rent relief, the state was forced to shut down the portal due to extraordinary demand.
The Texas Rent Relief program saw an influx of more than 100,000 applications just one day after the system opened, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs said. Prior to this week, the most applications seen in a single day were fewer than 20,000.
For beneficiaries like Vanessa Jenkins, the shutdown is disconcerting, but not a shock when compared to the cost of rent.
“I worked out throughout the pandemic, I paid my rent. I’m grateful for the program, because they really don’t have to give you anything,” she said. “I was not surprised that it closed so soon, because $96 million will go very fast, high as this rent is.”
The department had $96 million in available funding to distribute for rent assistance, but within one day, “requests for assistance far exceeded available funding.”
The portal is closed as of 11:59 a.m. on Thursday, March 16.
“It’s disappointing, but not surprising,” Ben Martin, the research director at Texas Housers, said. “There’s an incredible, extraordinary need for assistance from renters in the state of Texas right now. We’ve seen evictions rising throughout 2022 and into 2023. Renters are really experiencing a crisis right now.”
TDHCA will prioritize renters facing eviction for assistance as they begin to distribute the limited funds.
Martin points to research from the National Low Income Housing Coalition showing only one affordable housing unit is available for every four extremely low-income renters.
“That’s a deficit of 75% of what we need,” he said. “For very low-income renters making about 50% area median income, there’s less than one unit available for every two households looking for them.”
TDHCA said closing the portal will help staff review applications and distribute funds more quickly. In the meantime, the department refers those at risk of eviction to seek legal assistance. They provided Texas Law Help as a resource for free or low-cost representation.
Advocates are calling on state leaders to redirect their priorities in light of renters’ struggles. All top Texas leaders have identified property tax relief as their top priority this legislative session.
“That’s not going to help the 38% of Texas households that are renter households. We need direct assistance and we need immediate relief for renters as well,” he said.”
Texas Housers says the legislature should use part of the state’s $33 billion budget surplus to replenish the Texas Rent Relief program. Current plans include spending as much as $16.5 billion dollars on property tax relief.
“I could use a lot of help, you know, I’m not too proud to say that,” Jenkins said. “But with or without the help, I’m just gonna go to work every day, be grateful I have a job. I’ve been without a job. I’ve been homeless. So I count my blessings.”