The federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic was delayed and has been, at times, inconsistent and confusing. Much of the responsibility for keeping people safe and providing assistance has been devolved to state and local governments.
In recent days, Governor Greg Abbott has allowed businesses to open up again despite some experts cautioning that doing so could encourage greater spread of the virus and put lives at risk.
As such, it is up to local governments to mitigate any potential harm to communities and ensure every person in Texas cities and counties can stay safe during this uncertain time. Texas Housers has drafted a white paper calling on local government officials to adopt policies and practices that prioritize keeping Texans housed, provide resources for low-income renters to meet their obligations, and promote accessible transparent local government. Disasters can often be clarifying, presenting an opportunity to acknowledge inequities in policies and to fix them. Texas Housers is calling on local governments to use federal relief funds to meet the emergency need of today as well as prepare to build resilient local communities that can better weather the next crisis.
Below is a high-level summary of our recommendations followed by the white paper in its entirety.
- Keep Texans safe in their homes and prevent mass evictions
- Cities should require landlords to give delinquent tenants a “notice of proposed eviction” before issuing a notice to vacate. Since the start of the pandemic some cities, including Austin, Dallas and San Marcos, have passed ordinances requiring landlords to give tenants a “notice of proposed eviction” and time to pay overdue rent before they can issue a notice to vacate and file for eviction.
- Justice of the Peace Courts should postpone eviction hearings until July 25 to match protections with those provided by the CARES Act. The CARES Act prohibits initiating eviction proceedings against those living in federally subsidized or supported properties until July 25, 2020. Justice of the Peace Courts should extend the protections to all.
- County Judges should advise the Justice of the Peace Courts to postpone evictions for nonpayment of rent until July 25 if Justice Courts do not do so on their own.
- Devote federal aid to keeping low-income tenants and homeowners in their homes.
- Cities and counties should create substantial rent assistance funds to provide short-term and long-term rent relief for tenants. While many Texans are receiving unemployment benefits, too many Texans are falling through the cracks. Cities and counties should use federal relief funds to pay for sizable rental and basic needs assistance programs.
- Cities should ban late fees for payment of rent during the emergency. Some argue that banning late fees during the disaster would be rent control. Under Section 214.902 of the Local Government Code, a municipality may establish rent control if: (1) the governing body finds that a housing emergency exists due to a disaster; and (2) the governor approves the ordinance. COVID-19 has caused a housing emergency. Tenants who have lost income due to COVID-19 should not be forced to pay late fees.
- County Judges should advise landlords to charge no or limited late fees during the emergency. The Dallas County Judge’s order advised landlords to charge no more than $15 a month in late fees.
- Hold landlords accountable for honoring federal protections. Justice of the Peace Courts should require landlords in eviction cases to file an affidavit under penalty of perjury that they are not seeking to evict tenants from a “covered dwelling” under the CARES Act.