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EXPLAINER: Are evictions in Texas about to increase?

2 months 2 weeks 3 days ago Friday, July 30 2021 Jul 30, 2021 July 30, 2021 10:47 AM July 30, 2021 in News - Coronavirus Pandemic
Source: https://apnews.com/
By: By JAMIE STENGLE Associated Press
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

DALLAS (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions that was enacted last year is scheduled to expire Saturday, after the Biden administration extended the original 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 nearly $47 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

Advocates for tenants said the distribution of the money had been slow and that more time was needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to oust tenants who were behind on their rents.

Even with the delay, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5 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 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.

Some cities, including Dallas and Austin, have provided additional protections to renters.

WHAT'S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION? 

Federal funds have flowed into Texas to help qualified tenants 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 Wednesday, it had paid out or was in the process of paying out over $630 million to more than 102,000 households.

Texas is one of the states doing the best at distributing its funds quickly, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. However, some cities and counties have made very slow progress with their payouts, it said. 

HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?

Since the state Supreme Court dropped the language from its order at the end of March addressing the CDC moratorium, it has varied from court to court whether it is followed, advocates for renters say.

"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 rents have increased in Texas' large cities, according to the latest figures from Realtor.com. The site says the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Austin was $1,366 in June, which was 11.2% higher than the previous June. In Dallas, that figure stood at $1,278, which was up 13.1%.

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.

As of July 5, census data showed that 242,134 Texas residents believed they were very likely to be evicted within two months, while another 157,906 thought that was somewhat likely to happen.

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This story has been corrected to show that the National Low Income Housing Coalition said some cities and counties, not some local groups, have made slow progress with their payouts.

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