HOUSTON - Thousands of Texans were frustrated Tuesday morning when they tried to apply for the latest round of rent and utility assistance through Texas Rent Relief. Both the program's website and phone line crashed from the volume of applicants shortly after the application period began.
The site is now back online. As of this reporting, our calls to the phone line reach a recording reporting high call volume, and referring callers to apply through the website.
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs is taking applications through midnight on March 28 for $96 million. It provides up to 18 months of rent and utility assistance, at a time when high inflation is driving up the cost of rent, utilities, food, and gas. January Advisors reports eviction court filings in Harris County reached nearly 80,000 in 2022, a record high.
"I work, I work and take care of my family. It’s still hard out here. You know the food prices went up, and they cut the food stamps for the people. So I’m not angry or anything, don’t get me wrong, I’m just a little frustrated," said Margena Ursin, an applicant.
Thousands like Margena Ursin were frustrated, when the Texas Rent Relief website and phone line crashed when they tried to apply for rent and utility assistance.
"I got all my information ready, I called. They said call at 8 o’clock. But I had my phone up at 7:59 and when I called at 8’clock, it just said call ended, call ended," Ursin told us.
Many households are struggling with high inflation, as SNAP benefits returned to pre-pandemic levels.
"Oh, you just don’t know. It makes you want to go in the store and pick up some eggs, and grab three of them, and say I know eggs are $10.59, how much can I get for just three of them?" said Ursin.
When we asked the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs what went wrong, they sent us this statement:
"We understand some people are unable to access or start a new application, or are experiencing delayed load times. Our team is working to address the issue as quickly as possible. We’re asking individuals that if they’re not able to access the application system at this time, to check back throughout the day and try again using the ‘Apply Now’ button (for first time applicants).
We also know that the Customer Service Line is experiencing some challenges with extremely high call volume. We ask for patience and encourage any applicant to review our Frequently Asked Questions and Tenant Checklist, which may help answer questions about applying.
For those who are able to access the application (we had more than 4,000 applications submitted in the first 45 minutes of the portal opening) to please make sure to ‘Save’ your progress often, and use the Tenant Checklist to ensure you submit a complete application with all required documentation."
Ursin says she was able to apply later in the day.
"I just want to encourage the people to just hold on and be strong. God is going to make it happen, just hold on," said Ursin.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the Commissioners Court is providing $4 million to help people facing eviction with free legal assistance.
Hidalgo said the money will go to Lone Star Legal Aid and the Neighborhood Defender Service to provide free legal services to those in need.
"Everyday around 500 evictions are being filed. And 80,000 evictions were filed in 2022, that’s more than ever before," said Hidalgo.
Those facing eviction should seek legal assistance, attend their eviction hearing and stay in communication with their landlord and the court. They can visit TexasLawHelp.org or call 855-270-7655 for help understanding their options and to seek free or low-cost legal assistance.