County's rental assistance will be paid to landlords, not tenants; Faith leaders push aid for all

Fort Bend County has received a total of 7,546 applications for rental, mortgage and utility assistance for those impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the application website, which opened for registration on June1, has been disabled.

The county plans to distribute $6.5 million in the first phase and the second phase will begin on June 20.

“Payments will begin next week to landlords, property management companies, mortgage companies and utility providers,” County auditor Ed Sturdivant said.

Funds are paid directly to landlords, property management companies, mortgage companies, and utility providers to ensure that the assistance is not misused for any other purpose.

The case management team has begun the evaluation process. The case management team is staffed by a consultant (MPact), Social Services Department and non-profit partners totaling 30 to 40 individuals, Sturdivant said.

There is a steering subcommittee made up of designees from the Cities and Faith Based leaders that are overseeing the application guidelines and eligibility.

Sturdivant expects the county may approve between 2,000 and 3,000 applications in the first phase.

The $19.5 million in federal funds will de distribute in three phases. The first phase will be for paying rent and utilities in June and July. The maximum that an applicant can receive is $2,000 per month per household, which is $1,500 for rent and another $500 for utilities.

While the rental assistance is not being given to the residents directly, “Faith leaders” are playing a key role in the distribution of the funds. A lobby of Faith leaders had addressed the county commissioners court demanding a higher proportion of the available funds. The role of faith leaders in providing the rental and utility assistance has not been discussed by the commissioners court in public. An elected official had urged the faith leaders to make an appearance in large numbers before the commissioners court to press for more rental assistance and oppose any priority to small businesses.

Similarly, there is no prohibition of providing the assistance to ‘undocumented’ residents of the county.

Asked how the issues of undocumented people came up, Sturdivant said, “This was asked by the media and Faith Based Leaders. The Court did not exclude this group, therefore they are eligible to apply and receive benefits.”

In other word, since the commissioners court did not make a provision that anyone applying for assistance had to be a U.S. citizen, they are eligible.

It is possible that county commissioners can change the qualifications for the funds, including adding additional qualifications, but the chances are minimal, as the court is split 3-2 on party lines on major issues.

Asked how is this rental assistance different from the poverty alleviance programs, Sturdivant said, “It is similar except the applicants must show that they had an impact from the pandemic (loss of job/income) and they have a need (past due rent/mortgage/utilities).”

Commenting on the issue of undocumented people getting the rental assistant Pct. 1 Commissioner Vincent Morales said, “The faith leaders in the county made a very strong push with the court majority in rental assistance for anyone and everyone. That is yet another topic that was not given its due discussion in the court’s public meetings - I still disagree with how that was handled. I hope our county residents will get the help that they need for their COVID related needs. I hope there aren’t any more big surprises with these funds.”

Commissioner Andy Meyers said:

“That’s why I voted no on the entire proposal. There was no attempt at a discussion about this line item by the majority of the court who wanted it. The Democrats had their mind made up and I was in the dark about most of the details. All I know for sure is that they’ve used the CARES Act money to greatly expand the size of government. This is just another example - we’re still learning what all they approved and I expect more surprises will be forthcoming."

The county judge's office has been asked for comments and has not yet responded.

Among the area cities applicants from Richmond top the list with 1,720, followed by 1,227 applications from Sugar Land, 1,201 applications from Missouri City, Houston 851, Rosenberg 627, Katy 676, Stafford 556 and Fresno 361. Other smaller cities in the list include Rosharon 69, Fulshear 57, Needville 43 and Meadows Place 17.