Houston City Council OKs small business relief program


Houston City Council approved a $15 million financial relief program aimed at assisting small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The $15 million Small Business Economic Relief Program, or SBERP, will be launched with a portion of the city’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.

The program is meant for small businesses, including chambers of commerce, within the city of Houston “that are most in financial need and exhibit a moderate to high likelihood of surviving the pandemic’s adverse impacts,” a July 29 news release states. The funds are intended to be used for payroll expenses, accounts payable, rent, mortgage, personal protective equipment for employees, and marketing strategies, including developing an online presence or other means of sales alternatives.

Maximum awards of $50,000 will be disbursed through the program. The program aims to provide at least 11% of all funds to minority- and women-owned businesses, according to the agenda item.

“We know small businesses throughout Houston have suffered greatly due to the global pandemic, and it could take months or years before the business climate returns to normal,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in the release. “I thank Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Castex-Tatum and other council members for bringing this program forward. We are working on other relief packages that will keep us ‘Houston Strong’ as we navigate the public health crisis.”

The SBERP will be administered by Houston Business Development Inc., a local nonprofit community development financial institution, or CDFI. In addition to administering the program and processing applications electronically, HBDI will provide regular progress reporting to the city’s Office of Business Opportunity.

“The SBERP will help all sizes of small businesses move one step closer toward financial recovery,” said Marsha Murray, director of the Office of Business Opportunity. “This program is intended to maximize the long-term, positive impact of these small businesses on our local economy through their contribution to job retention and the continued availability of their services.”

Businesses must meet the following requirements to be eligible to apply for SBERP funds:

  • Must be located within city limits of the city of Houston
  • Must have been in business for at least one year
  • Must provide evidence of how revenue has “significantly decreased because of government restrictions or other challenges due to Covid-19”
  • Must have generated $2 million or less in gross annual income prior to the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Must be in good standing with city requirements, such as property taxes

Eligibility requirements may be modified for chamber of commerce applicants if the Office of Business Opportunity approves the changes.

A applicant will also need to commit to completing the program’s “technical assistance component” through a contractor, according to the agenda item. The Houston Business Journal has reached out to city representatives and the OBO for additional details on this component of the program.

The city anticipates that HBDI will start accepting applications for the SBERP within two weeks.

Harris County has approved similar small business relief programs in recent months. In late June, Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a $30 million grant program to assist small businesses with 30 or fewer employees. The Harris County Small Business Recovery Fund program, or SBRF, is also being administered by HBDI. 

Commissioners Court in April approved a $10 million forgivable loan program, which has been able to provide assistance to around 400 small businesses.

Meanwhile, Fort Bend County Judge KP George and other county officials announced the launch of the $22 million Fort Bend County Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program at a June 15 press conference. The program is funded by the CARES Act and is designed to provide grants up to $10,000 to cover “the most immediate financial needs” of small businesses.

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