With unemployment claims in Texas surpassing two million, many without work aren’t sure how they will pay the rent. The Texas Supreme Court’s moratorium on evictions ends May 18, in less than two weeks. Meanwhile, Dallas County is the latest to announce a local program to help people stay in their homes, but the county’s top official knows it won’t be nearly enough.
“It’s put so many more people in the category where they are likely to become homeless,” said Sandy Rollins, Executive Director of the Texas Tenants’ Union.
Rollins points to electronic filings that were still allowed to continue during the moratorium and expects the courts will be busy later this month when eviction notices start to go out again.
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“Throwing more people in homelessness at this time is not just a huge mistake for that individual family to be put through, but it’s a mistake for the health of the larger community,” said Rollins.
Ian Mattingly, President-elect of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, said a recent survey by J Turner Research, a housing research firm based in Houston, estimates as many as 20% of renters don’t expect to be able to pay rent in May.
“Obviously, the stresses are continuing to accumulate for many households, especially low-income households in North Texas,” said Mattingly.
Mattingly said he would urge renters to communicate with their landlords about COVID-19 hardships and non-payment.
“We’re continuing to advocate for additional funding to be put toward renter assistance to make sure folks don’t have a huge cloud of debt coming out, as the state begins to come out from the quarantine,” Mattingly added.
So far, the City of Dallas and Dallas County are using federal CARES Act money for local assistance programs.
Dallas County commissioners voted on Tuesday to start a separate program to distribute $5 million in housing help via a lottery system. The application details and dates are not yet finalized.
“They’ll be a lot more people that apply than people who are accepted for this first $5 million,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told NBC 5 on Wednesday. “But, the City of Dallas and the county are working together and trying to find an administrator. Once we have a shared administrator, we’ll put more money in and help more people.”
Jenkins also said the county may consider extending its local moratorium on evictions past May 18.
The City of Dallas is temporarily requiring a special COVID-19 eviction notice, aimed at giving renters more time to respond to the eviction notice and work out a payment plan.
There is also a federal moratorium on evictions for landlords with federally backed mortgages. The National Low Income Housing Coalition offers a searchable database to help renters learn if their apartment is under the federal moratorium, but the organization warns the list isn’t complete. https://nlihc.org/federal-moratoriums
Rollins said extending moratoriums would help renters for now, but more needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable in and out of a pandemic. She said she hopes the COVID-19 crisis pushes lawmakers to consider more long-term protections for renters in Texas.
“We are in an unprecedented situation. I know that’s been said many times, but we need unprecedented solutions,” said Rollins.