$11.3 million approved for Brazoria County residents struggling with rent in pandemic

July 13, 2021

Churches in Brazoria County help residents still hurting from COVID-19’s financial fallout. (CNS photo)

ANGLETON — Churches in Brazoria County, with its county seat being in Angleton, are helping residents still hurting from the pandemic’s financial fallout to apply for rental assistance through a recent $11.3 million federal grant, community leaders say.

The monies became available June 14 after Church and community leaders met with Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta earlier in the spring. They specifically asked him how they could help distribute the funds so it wouldn’t be sent back to the federal government as had been considered.

A contingency of three Catholic priests, The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) nonprofit and other church groups, including Grace Episcopal, met with the county judge back in March.

“We let the county judge know that we have volunteers to help with the paperwork and we have those in dire need of assistance,” said Sister Maureen O’Connell, director of the Secretariat for Social Concerns.

“Poor and vulnerable people trust the Church more. So this collaboration between government and Church groups is a wonderful opportunity to help them,” she said.

On the first day of applications being accepted, “churches had 118 applications in four hours,” she said of the online process. “Now the number of applications are more than 500.”

Both tenants and landlords need to apply for the funds because the monies go directly to landlords for back rent and possibly utilities, but no penalties are allowed. Brazoria County is included in the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan statistical area with its largest city being Pearland.

Hilda DeLeon, coordinator of volunteers for St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Alvin, said, “We have both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking volunteers available. Many of our parishioners are Spanish-speaking and may not have computer access. I had to help three families set up email addresses.”

An English-speaking applicant had lost his job in April after the restaurant he worked at closed because of the pandemic, DeLeon said. “He had been able to pay his rent until his unemployment checks ran out but owed more than $1,000 in utilities.”

“We help them gather documents like unemployment and termination letters or notifications of past due rent or bills and scan them to apply online,” she said.

Father John Taosan, St. John the Baptist pastor, said that the support of TMO and the Archdiocese, specifically Father Italo Dell’Oro, now bishop, encouraged them to partner together for the collaboration with Brazoria County.

“Being a pastor is very busy, and it’s hard for us to know everything that is needed in the community. But this collaboration has helped me to learn a lot and reach out to our local government and talk with our county judge,” Father Taosan said.

“I have written out checks to help those in need, but church donations are limited. We also worked with Catholic Charities to help residents. But these extra funds from Brazoria County will greatly help,” the pastor said.

Sacred Heart of Jesus in Manvel and St. Mary Star of Sea in Freeport are also working to assist parishioners and other community members with the Brazoria County rental assistance. The funds for the rental assistance are estimated to last through December of 2021, depending on the need and qualified applicants who meet certain economic requirements to qualify.

Volunteers will provide a packet listing the documents required and forms for each family wishing to apply, as well as help explain the process, DeLeon said.

Applicants will have 10 business days to respond and submit information that has been requested.

“But they can call the church first and make an appointment. We will let them know what documents are needed so when they come here, we can possibly do it all in one day,” she said.

Yara Nely Obispo, a bilingual TMO volunteer and member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Alvin, reached out to families in the neighborhood.

“I spoke with 50 families and found they felt distressed by their situation. They have lost jobs and need help with rent and utilities,” Obispo said.

After sharing information about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and the one-on-one help available at the church, the families felt that relief was on the way.

“They had great faith that we would help them,” she said.