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We present this newsletter to keep you informed of the most important Texas eviction updates each month. We encourage you to explore our findings in more detail on our website or through your favorite media platforms. You can subscribe to this newsletter today:
Know this: We don’t want to just complain about evictions. We are doing something about it
In order to prevent evictions, we demand eviction court reform, investment in eviction diversion at all levels of government, expansion of tenants’ rights, and income-restricted housing targeted at the lowest-income renters who really need it. How do you stop evictions? By establishing all of these measures in the first place. In this crisis, it is high time for our local and state leaders to step up and do the right thing to keep Texans housed.
A dire eviction crisis in Houston, and how to stop it
Evictions in Houston are skyrocketing. Last month, eviction case counts in Harris County were almost 50% higher than they were pre-pandemic, and they’ve been higher than the historic average for every single month of 2022. In March, one out of every 108 renter households in Harris County faced a new eviction filing. Last week in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Lone Star Legal Aid attorney Dana Karni called the number of evictions in Houston “outrageous,” adding: “I don’t think it’s going down, not only anytime soon but maybe ever again.” This is an unacceptable state of affairs.
Why is this crisis happening? There is not one singular reason, but rather a “perfect storm” of events that is destabilizing housing for Harris County’s most vulnerable residents. The eviction moratorium ended months ago, Emergency Rental Assistance is running out, and the local rental assistance program in Houston is limited to those with active eviction cases. Simultaneously, low-income Houston renters face the most punishing rental market in a generation: rents were up 11.1% from last year while wages were up just 5.2% (and wages already weren’t matching the cost of rent for many low-income residents).
For families with the lowest incomes, that means that they are either shouldering a severe cost burden or facing displacement or homelessness. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual The Gap report, the Houston area only has 19 units available and affordable for every 100 renter households making at or below 30% of area median income. Four out of five of those households are paying over half of their income towards rent, which means that they’re falling short on food and other essentials.
Rents increases are a problem for everyone, but for the lowest-income renters this is a critical fight to keep a roof over their head. The eviction numbers don’t lie. There have been 26,586 eviction cases and counting in the Houston area in 2022. This is a dire crisis. Our elected leaders at all levels of government must address evictions head on.
If the check hasn’t made it, abate it.
Texas Justices of the Peace (JPs) hold the final say in eviction court, yet we are still seeing eviction outcomes vary immensely for similar cases heard by different judges. Landlords throughout the state are eager to get back to “business as usual” and are proceeding with evictions rather than utilizing the rental assistance system – sometimes when a check is already in the mail. In this video, a Bexar County court observer describes a particularly tricky eviction case heard last week where multiple checks had been issued but not yet received.
During the pandemic, we built an infrastructure for distributing rental assistance unlike any other in American history.
It would be a waste of resources to let it disappear now.
It has been nearly a year and a half since Texas cities and counties began disbursing Emergency Rental Assistance to keep low-income communities housed through the pandemic. It is undeniable that ERA distribution in Texas has been plagued by geographical disparities (our major metropolitan areas quickly expended their ERA awards, while some smaller jurisdictions struggled for months to get any money out to households). However, while it had some flaws, we can conclude that ERA worked. Eviction rates in most Texas jurisdictions remained below historic levels throughout the majority of the pandemic. Rental assistance is an effective tool for keeping low-income renters housed during unstable times, and over the past year and a half we proved that we can do it.
We are now approaching a transition point. By the end of March, nearly half of all Texas jurisdictions administering ERA had exhausted their ERA1 awards. As the availability of ERA dwindles, eviction rates in Texas are on the rise. We must take advantage of the infrastructure that our state and local governments have worked hard to build and maintain over the past year and a half, and continue to fund rental assistance programs.
This is exactly what the Eviction Crisis Act would do, if enacted. We need a permanent rental assistance program, like that proposed in this legislation. Furthermore, we need a program that applies the lessons that we have learned under ERA, so that we may build upon our successes and not repeat mistakes of the past.
We’ve learned that certain “best practices” – like partnering with community-based organizations and implementing flexible documentation requirements – can help programs reach their most vulnerable residents. We’ve also learned that federal enforcement is essential to ensure that local jurisdictions do not neglect the responsibility to distribute aid to low-income people. We cannot let the knowledge and infrastructure that we have built go to waste.
Other Things to Know about Texas Eviction
On April 20, the Supreme Court issued a new Emergency Order (EO) 50, which supersedes EO 48 and extends judicial practices necessary for effective emergency rent relief programs until July 1, 2022. While we applaud and appreciate the administrative rules created by the Supreme Court of Texas to help Justices of the Peace and litigating parties navigate these government-funded rental assistance programs, we continue to see some JPs ignore these procedures. This ultimately leaves tenants without resources or assistance because of negligent actions by courts, landlords, and program administrators. You can read more about that here.
EO Requirements Explained:
- Any case where tenant and landlord expresses interest in participating in rent relief programs or have a pending rent relief application MUST be abated for 60 days [Paragraph (3)(b)(iv)]
- Reinstating any case abated in this manner can only be done if the landlord files a motion to reinstate with evidence to the court that proves the landlord has withdrawn, been denied, or canceled their application [Paragraph 5]
- Cases that do not file a motion to reinstate during the 60 day abatement period must be dismissed by the judge [Paragraph 6]
- Judges must allow legal aid representatives (if available) to be present in order to assist tenants