Millions of dollars in Tarrant County are waiting to be used for rent relief.
Together, Tarrant County and the cities of Fort Worth and Arlington received a combined $63 million to give tenants and landlords for rent and utilities. Tarrant County has allocated nearly $852,000 of its $24 million available funds. The county is set to receive an additional $19 million from the federal government in the coming weeks.
All that money is being set aside to support tenants and landlords who are behind on rent. After long wait times discouraged applicants last year, local governments are working to make improvements to the application process and encourage people to apply through paid advertising. Terrance Jones, interim Neighborhood Services manager for the city of Fort Worth, said his team is working in a variety of ways to reach underserved communities.
“We’re trying to help every single ZIP code in the city of Fort Worth,” Jones said.
The push also includes improvements to the application process. Tarrant County worked with Fort Worth and Arlington to create getrenthelp.com. The website is a one-stop shop for renters and landlords in Tarrant County to go and be directed to the right application based on their location.
The improvements have helped the county process applications faster, Kristen Camareno with Tarrant Count’s Community Development and Housing Department said.
“That has been a really great asset. These are processes that really help facilitate that quicker turnaround,” Camareno said.
Both Camareno and Jones say their efforts have paid off. Tarrant County is getting money back to tenants and landlords three weeks after they file their application, on average.
That is really the most beneficial to the program because that not only helps people more quickly,” Camareno said, “It improves… the perception of our program.”
How to apply
Go to getrenthelp.com and select the city you live in. It will either let you continue the application from there or redirect you to the Fort Worth/Arlington application website.
If you need help gathering paperwork or filling out the application you can call 817.850.7940 and press 1.
Not sure if you qualify? Officials say apply anyway – it can’t hurt.
Both Tarrant County and the city of Fort Worth say they have representatives on the phone ready to assist people who may have questions about the application, or who need help gathering the documents required to apply.
Fort Worth and their partner organizations like Fort Worth Housing Solutions have also been knocking on doors, going out to multi-family housing to assist with the application process in person.
“I went out to one site myself and I had 40 people staring at me when I walked in the door ready to get assistance,” Jones said. “That allows us to complete cases a lot faster. We don’t have to do a lot of follow-up with our applicants at that point because we’re following up right then and there.”
Dana Sinegal has been to five apartment complexes in the past two weeks helping residents get in applications for assistance. In a single day she and her team can help up to 40 people apply for assistance. She’s seen tenants shocked that aid is available to them.
She meets people who pawned off furniture early on in the pandemic to pay the rent. Now they have another option.
“I’m getting paid to do God’s work,” Sinegal said.
Organizations like Fort Worth Housing Solutions have partnered with the city of Fort Worth to allocate funds and help applicants through the process. FWHS has also sent teams to multi-family housing to spread the word that these funds are available.
“We’ve got people to help gather the documentation or to chase down a signature from a landlord,” Housing Solutions President Mary-Margaret Lemons said. “We’re happy to help get this money into the hands of those that need it most.”
Also included in the organizations’ outreach efforts are advertising in places like city buses and radio stations where Jones said it’s likely to reach the communities who have the most need.
“We have a broad spectrum of radio stations that we’re using, we’re trying to hit every audience that we can,” Jones said. “Advertising in these different avenues gets the full community of Fort Worth.”
Fort Worth’s application process can be completed in both English and Spanish. And while the application can’t be translated into Vietnamese, the city is working to approve advertising in Vietnamese to target that community.
Tarrant County already has distributed materials urging people to apply in both Spanish and Vietnamese. That outreach is essential to help applicants feel like the process is accessible, Camareno said.
“People will respond to outreach that sounds like them and looks and like them,” Camareno said. “If a program is advertised or communicated strictly in English and it’s not their native language, I think it can feel foreboding.”
Other organizations partnering with Fort Worth help tenants and landlords access funds. Housing Chanel, Samaritan House and Center for Transforming Lives all offer resources to secure rent assistance.
“Anytime we’re dealing with a process that includes filling out forms and providing paperwork it can be a little daunting,” Lemons said. “We really just want people to understand that if you’ve been affected by COVID-19 in any way… please please please apply, we have this money we want it to go to the people that need it.”
The first round of federal funds can be used through 2021, for up to 15 months of back rent. The new round of funding will be available for the county to use through 2026. Also with the new round of funding approved in March, applicants can receive up to three more months of assistance.
Editors note: This article was updated Monday, May 24. Tarrant County paid $851,950 in rent and utility relief. The original version of the story reported an incorrect dollar figure.