Thousands of Houston evictions suspended during pandemic could resume in coming weeks – Houston Public Media

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Houstonians facing eviction line up for help at Harvest Time Church in Greenspoint.

It has become a regular monthly event during the pandemic – hundreds of Houstonians line up, wait hours for free legal help, and help navigate the process of applying for rent relief money.

Pop-up clinics are run in churches and community centers, and run by lawyers and volunteers, as well as local unions and staff from the Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia’s office and the commissioner’s office. Harris County 1 Rodney Ellis.

At the most recent event in June, held at Harvest Time Church in Greenspoint, Eric Kwartler, an attorney at South Texas College of Law, said many families online were living on the brink of eviction.

“There are hundreds of people here, and we’re doing our best to get through them, but it’s so frustrating for everyone, especially those with kids,” Kwartler said.We had someone who had just had an operation and had a gaping wound. We’re trying to help everyone with unique needs, but it’s just overwhelming. “

The last pandemic safety net policy to end could be the federal moratorium on CDC evictions, which is set to expire in late July. And youLike tenants in many other cities across the country, Houstonians will also not have a moratorium on state or local evictions to protect them.

California is still under a moratorium on evictions until September 30, and New York State’s deportation moratorium is about to expire August 31. Statewide moratorium set to end in Illinois in August.

In Texas, however, the State Supreme Court lifted its moratorium on evictions over a year ago, in May 2020.

Lawyers are helping Houstonians complete documents relating to the eviction moratorium at Harvest Time Church in Greenspoint.

“The reason there is no statewide moratorium is that we continue to rely on federal moratoria and local jurisdictions,” the Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice said, Nathan Hecht, in an interview with Houston Public Media in December.

For some time month, Houston area officials have relied on millions of dollars in federal rent relief to prevent evictions.

Jay Malone, political director of the Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, said that is why organizers are holding these big rent relief events in person – for the many families with language or technology barriers who are struggling to get by. connect with help.

“A lot of these people, if we hadn’t helped them, if they hadn’t had an event where they could just get in the car and drive and somebody would take care of it for them, they’d be in. the street, ”said Malone.

The federal moratorium has had mixed results, in part because it does not automatically suspend evictions, and many people are unaware they can claim protection. Tenants only filed moratorium documents in about 15% of eviction cases filed in Harris County, according to data company January Advisors.

Queues at the Houston-area rent relief events could grow since Texans lost their pandemic unemployment benefits in late June. Gov. Greg Abbott let the federal program expire early, saying the state’s economy was back on track – though more than 30,000 workers have postponed by a lawsuit, arguing that the governor does not have the power to end the federal benefits they were counting on until September.

Many Texans have yet to return to full-time work, Malone said.

“Galveston is a huge cruise port. The cruise ships have just returned, ”said Malone. “These are the waitresses at the Hilton. Their capacity is still tiny compared to what it was. Air travel is still less than it used to be, so a lot of those jobs haven’t come back. “

Now, many are preparing for August. If the federal moratorium expires, many of the cases that were put on hold during the pandemic will be back on the books, according to Dana Karni, lawyer-manager of Lone Star Legal Aid.

“We have thousands of cases that have been resolved by the CDC. All of these cases are about to be heard,” Karni said. “The lawyers are going to be busy. The tenants are going to scramble. This is probably going to be a hell of a mess in the courthouse. A devastating mess.”

Volunteers help tenants facing eviction at Harvest Time Church in Greenspoint.

It’s not like that everywhere in Texas. While Houston does not have a state or local moratorium in effect, Austin has had one since March 2020.

“If you look at a city like Houston, where you have over 32,000 evictions, then a city just two and a half hours away like Austin, where you only have about 1,000… I think you can look. back last year and compare the two, then decide for yourself which policy you think is best, ”said Greg Casar, Austin City Council member.

Currently, Austin landlords cannot evict tenants who owe less than five months’ rent. If a tenant owes more than five months’ rent, landlords are required to apply for rent assistance before they can evict them.

Casar said it was part of a long-term plan.

“We’re going to cut that from five months to, say, three, then to two, so that we help people get back into a recovering economy, rather than as soon as everyone has vaccines, just letting everyone down. ‘a cliff,’ Casar said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

the Houston-Harris County Rent Relief Fund distributed $ 131.4 million to 35,036 households, according to BakerRipley and Catholic Charities, two nonprofits that administer the funds for the program.

Robin Millard, a tenant who moved with her daughter from Seattle to Houston just before the pandemic, hoped their rent relief would come before it was too late.

“Oh my god, it was so scary,” Millard said. “Because we don’t know anyone here. We’re completely alone. Not having that stability for my daughter was really terrifying because I didn’t want to uproot her at all, but mostly to have to lose everything. And we would have lost everything, because we would be. essentially homeless. ”

Millard’s landlord requested their eviction, but also worked with them to secure rent relief funding.

“The day we had to go to court, we got the approval letter,” Millard said. “It was just through the skin of my teeth that it sort of worked out.”

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