By Caroline Vandergriff

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Tens of thousands of Texans struggling to pay rent have been waiting for weeks to get some much-needed assistance.

The Texas Rent Relief program launched more than a month ago with $1.3 billion to give to tenants and landlords, but so far, the state has only approved less than 1% of applicants.

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“It has been kind of a long, arduous, frustrating year,” said Dallas resident Aaron Jones, who lost his job in the hospitality industry because of the pandemic.

When Jones heard about the Texas Rent Relief program, he immediately applied.

“Hopefully to get a little bit of help so that we’re not just choosing, are we late on the electric bill or late on the car bill?” he said.

Jones has been waiting for an answer for five weeks.

“I thought it would be much faster, but I guess maybe I was a little too optimistic,” Jones said.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs is responsible for distributing the $1.3 billion worth of federal aid to Texas renters.

“We also have an additional billion coming from the more recent American Rescue Plan Act,” said Bobby Wilkinson, executive director of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. “We haven’t received it yet, but it should be here shortly.”

The agency launched the program in mid-February.

A month later, it had only made three payments.

“Starting in the ice storm was not the best time. Our call center was at like 1/3 capacity,” Wilkinson said. “The other aspect that’s probably bigger, we were having computer IT issues with the software and we had to switch out what you don’t see, on the back end.”

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As of Monday, March 22, there were more than 167,000 applications for assistance.With the new software system in place and increased staffing, Wilkinson says the agency has been able to expedite the review process.

“So as of this week, we’re going to have 159 tenant households served, and that’s $928,000,” he said.

Wilkinson expects that number to grow exponentially.

“That’s a $900-something thousand jump since last week,” Wilkinson said. “And then you’ll see it week over week, it will climb into the tens of millions.”

Once an application is completed, Wilkinson hopes to be able to send out the payment within a few weeks if it’s approved.

“We know that they’re devoting tremendous resources to try to deal with the issues that they’ve encountered, and we’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to get things up and running much more efficiently, so that people can get that assistance,” said David Mintz with the Texas Apartment Association.

For Jones, it can’t come soon enough. His rent is due in seven days.

“Being unemployed, there’s a pandemic, waiting for a vaccine – there’s a lot of things outside of my control,” said Jones. “I just have to wait.”

And he has to hope the changes the state implemented will work to finally get renters like him the help they need.

Eligible households and landlords are encouraged to apply for assistance online or call 1-833-989-7368.

Currently, payments for rent are being sent directly to landlords when the tenant applies.

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When the landlord applies, the payment is sent directly to the landlord as well.

Caroline Vandergriff