After struggling to provide rental assistance for parts of 2020, local government agencies say they are better prepared to use millions of dollars in funding and have launched new outreach efforts in the last several weeks.
In Tarrant County, landlords and tenants who have been affected by COVID have three options: from Fort Worth, Arlington and Tarrant County (Residents of Arlington and Fort Worth can draw funding from their cities, while other Tarrant County residents can obtain it from Tarrant County; all residents may also apply at TexasRentRelief.com.) All have several million in funding and can provide up to 15 months of back rent.
Last year, if people even knew assistance was available, they still had trouble knowing which jurisdiction to turn to for funding. Tarrant County has now fixed that issue by starting the website GetRentHelp.com, which takes applicants to the funding source designated for the city in which they live.
One of the hardest parts last year for Tarrant County was compiling the proper paperwork from landlords and tenants in a short time. At first, they were only taking applications from tenants. Now Tarrant County is not only communicating with landlords they have been prioritizing contact with them, knowing they have the necessary paperwork, can sign up multiple tenants at once and are usually as eager to receive the funding as their renters. With the recent batches of funding, which Tarrant County started giving out in late March, the average turnaround time between application and receiving the funding is three weeks. Landlords said it could take up to 90 days last year.
Kristen Camareno, who is leading Tarrant County’s housing assistance efforts, said the county has also enlisted a call center for taking phone calls from applicants, and a new software system has allowed renters and landlords to check on the status of their funding requests anytime.
“I don’t think anyone was really prepared for the volume of requests for assistance (last year),” Camareno said.
She added that Tarrant County, which has assisted around 100 households with $654,000 in assistance since it set up a program in late March, has stepped up its marketing efforts. They have either advertised or will begin advertising in multiple languages on radio, Spotify, Pandora, Instagram, Facebook and Nextdoor. (Fort Worth has also used radio advertisements.) “And TikTok, we’re talking about starting something there,” Camareno added.
Arlington is also ready to roll out new marketing strategies. “Go to where the people are, right?” said Mindy Cochran, executive director of the Arlington Housing Authority. “Everybody goes to the gas station. So we’re doing (ads) on the gas pumps.” They’re doing the same at Dollar General stores, laundromats, Arlington schools and various apartment complexes.
Arlington has been mining eviction filings to ensure the city notifies tenants and landlords who are going through the eviction process. The staff has even gone to apartment complexes where it knows evictions are happening to help people start applications for assistance in person, getting all the necessary paperwork on the spot.
If someone hasn’t been reached through those mechanisms, Arlington has also been working with Tarrant County to set up a process where they can update Justice of the Peace courts of the application statuses of any evicted tenants who have applied for the assistance so the judges will know funding could be on the way. (Camareno said Tarrant County has also done the same for Fort Worth.)
Cochran says Arlington has plenty of funding for the time being and has allocated around $700,000 since receiving the most recent batch of federal funding in late March. She and her staff are just wanting to make it as easy as possible for that funding to reach renters and landlords.
“We’re doing as much streamlining as we can,” Cochran said.
How to find help if you’re a renter
There are several opportunities to apply for rent assistance:
Apply with Texas Rent Relief if you live anywhere in Texas (texasrentrelief.com)
Apply with Fort Worth Housing Solutions if you live in Fort Worth (fwhs.org/erap)
Apply with Arlington, Tarrant County or Fort Worth if you live anywhere in Tarrant County (getrenthelp.com or call 817-850-7940 and select option 1)
If you need legal help, contact Legal Aid Northwest Texas (https://internet.lanwt.org/en-us) or 855-548-8457