DALLAS, Texas — A federal freeze on most evictions that was enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, has been the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and have fallen months behind on their rent.
Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing that they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rent.
As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they would face eviction within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.
Here’s the situation in Texas:
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?
The Texas Supreme Court suspended proceedings in most eviction cases in the state in March 2020, but they were allowed to resume about two months later.
After the CDC moratorium was issued, the court issued an order that directed judges hearing eviction cases to make sure the moratorium was followed. But at the end of March, the court dropped that language.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?
Federal funds have flowed into Texas to help tenants who qualify pay their rent. And attorneys from groups around the state have mobilized to represent renters in court.
When the pandemic began, several of the state’s big cities created their own rent relief programs, reallocating money and using reserves, said Christina Rosales, deputy director at Texas Housers, a nonprofit focused on housing issues. Since then, about $3.5 billion in U.S. Treasury Department funds have been distributed to the state and to dozens of cities and counties to help renters, she said.
The state’s Texas Rent Relief Program is distributing more than $1 billion. As of Thursday, it had paid out or was in the process of paying out more than $487 million, helping over 78,000 households.
Some cities, including Dallas and Austin, are providing additional protections for renters.
HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?
After the state Supreme Court dropped the language from its order at the end of March addressing the CDC moratorium, advocates for renters say that whether it is followed has varied from court to court.
“It has now become a patchwork of enforcement in the state of Texas,“ said Nelson Mock, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. “And some courts are enforcing federal law, some courts are not enforcing federal law.”
HOW AFFORDABLE IS HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
There’s a shortage of affordable and available rentals throughout Texas for extremely low income households, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And rent increases can be seen in Texas’ large cities, according to the latest figures from Realtor.com. The site says rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Austin stood at $1,300 in May, which was 8.7% higher than the previous year. In Dallas that figure stood at $1,230, which was up 9.3%.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CAUSE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
Eviction cases are expected to increase once the CDC moratorium ends, and advocates for renters say homelessness could rise as well.
“I think there’s no question that homelessness will increase without other protections,” Mock said. “I think in every major city in the state of Texas, housing is at a premium, and affordable housing is very, very limited.”
In January, an annual count of the homeless population in the Houston area found that about 15% of people surveyed said they were without a fixed address because of the pandemic.
Recent census data showed that 159,828 Texas residents believed they were very likely to be evicted within two months, while another 134,686 thought that was somewhat likely to happen.