Houston city council passes $23 million rent relief bill

Donning surgical masks. Doling out far too few dollars to meet the enormous and growing COVID-19 driven need. It is the troubling new normal for Houston’s City Council.

On the table, a rapidly assembled relief program for renters with no resources to avoid eventual eviction.

While multiple members voiced concern over benefiting bad landlords, leaving out the most urgently in need and inequitable distribution, two federally funded rescue programs totaling $23 million gained unanimous approval.

“I think delaying this any further will hurt the very people we are trying to help,” said Council Member Dave Martin.

RELATED: Houston City Council will vote on emergency rent relief program

But with an estimated half-million unemployed, it fell to Council Member Greg Travis to put the challenge into a painful perspective.

“This is going to come back again and again and again and again. The need is great. It’s long. It’s deep. It’s in every community, every community and you all know it,” warned Travis.

The reality check continued.

“Eventually if we keep doing this every month, these people will become wards of the state. Every one of these 500,000 people out there will be wards of the state and you cannot support them. The way we support them is by giving these people jobs and respect and being able to feed their families,” said Travis.

Mayor Sylvester Turner perceived Travis’ remarks as a call for rapid re-engagement of the Houston economy, a measure Turner has opposed based on the advice of medical experts.

“This virus is real and it is killing people and if we open up to quickly we are going to kill even more. The problem is people are only hearing the voices of those who say reopen. That’s what they are hearing and everything else is taking a back seat,” said Turner.

In the meantime, the City’s initial rent relief program launches Thursday with landlord registration.

On May 13th distressed renters will be asked to make their application by phone or online at HoustonRentAssistance.org.