As we enter the month of June, Texans all over our state will look at their bank accounts, open their wallets, and confirm their worst fear: they cannot afford to pay rent. More than 2.2 million Texans have filed for unemployment and will struggle to provide for themselves and their families in the coming months. The mental stress of personal safety is heavy, as Texas currently averages more than 1000 new coronavirus cases per day. Unemployment is on the rise, bills are piling, personal funds are dwindling, and the fear of eviction is looming.
In response to the crisis, State government attempted to alleviate some of the burden. On April 27, the Texas Supreme Court extended an eviction moratorium lasting until May 18, stating that eviction proceedings could only move forward if a landlord filed an affidavit that a tenant is an “actual threat” and deputies could not execute “writs of possession” to forcibly evict someone who loses their case in court. Unfortunately, these protections were brief. On May 14, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order allowing eviction proceedings to resume on May 19 and writs of execution on May 26. Although there are still some properties covered under the CARES Act protections that last until July 25, many renters are now at risk of displacement.
The US Census Bureau 2018 ACS Estimate states that there are 3.7 million renter-occupied units and 6 million owner-occupied units in the entire state of Texas. In Houston, the state’s largest city, there is a 60/40 split between owner and renter occupied units. Yet, estimates suggest more than half — or 1.2 million people — of the city’s population are living in rental units. Unfortunately, Houston is the only large city in the state which has not passed its own county or local protections.
The historic disenfranchisement of marginalized communities, especially in the midst of a health disaster, also cannot be ignored. Analysis of the pandemic shows that communities of color are disproportionately affected by the virus. In Houston, 27% of their renter households are African American. These are thousands of tenants who are living without a safety net under a global pandemic.
As one of the state’s housing policy leaders, Texas Housers’ initial response to the crisis was outlining several recommendations that state and local governments should utilize to minimize the housing disaster caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and how they should embed justice in housing policy. Now, Texas Housers has formed a special COVID-19 Task Force with team members devoted to tasks like:
- gathering and analyzing important data to reflect the effects of COVID-19 on housing,
- monitoring local and state policy implementations that keep the vulnerable safe from homelessness,
- analyzing the proposed federal funding that combats the housing issue during the pandemic,
- collecting stories from affected Texans to gauge the effectiveness of government policy
- providing local and state governments with recommendations for the equitable implementation of those funds.
This proactive approach to housing advocacy allows us to inform decision makers about potential gaps in their policy and funding strategies, while reminding them about the importance of maintaining low-income households at the forefront of their decisions. In this capacity, we also can provide information to affected Texans by keeping them up to date about new and standing housing policies, educating them on their rights as renters and homeowners, and connecting them to available resources that enhance their personal advocacy strategy.
We believe that the government should act swiftly to protect housing stability and assist those most vulnerable and at risk of displacement. As COVID-19’s adverse effects continue to grow in number and severity, we will be observing, informing, and forging forward in our mission: to keep Texans safely housed.
The Texas Housers COVID-19 Task Force will be producing and sharing information pertinent to the ongoing developments of legislation, as well as sharing stories from affected Texans all over the state. If your housing situation has been affected by COVID-19 and would like to share your experience with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.