Millions of Texans continue to struggle paying rent amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are currently face eviction proceedings. However, there will soon be more help to keep tenants in their homes.
Stop TX Eviction is a new online information portal providing a step-by-step guide to help tenants understand their legal rights and the options available to keep them housed, according to a press release.
“I’m probably going to find a cheap hotel somewhere,” said Alexander Casso.
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Casso has found himself in a place he never expected: homeless along with his wife and three small children.
“I don’t wish it on nobody,” he said through tears. “I have my kids with me and they’ve been through this. It’s hard. It’s very hard.”
The Seagoville family was recently evicted from their mobile home park for not paying rent, he said.
They surrendered their home for the same reason.
The electrician said he’s encountered several setbacks during the pandemic, including available work slowing down and an injury to his finger.
He admits they got behind on bills and simply couldn’t catch up.
He now travels to worksites around the state with his family in tow since hotel rooms are provided.
A new statewide program aims to avoid endings like this.
“This is a great program that is thanks to $171 million that was appropriated by Governor Abbott and then the Texas Supreme Court created this program,” said attorney Marissa Latta of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Stop TX Eviction helps tenants understand their rights and the eviction process, find rental assistance, and apply for free legal help.
Tenants will also receive additional information in the web portal about a new program called the Eviction Diversion Program.
The program is meant to ‘divert’ eviction cases from the court system to ensure tenants can receive rental assistance and landlords get paid for the rent they are owed.
However, the Eviction Diversion Pilot Program is only available in 19 counties in the state as of now including: Bee, Bexar, Brazos, Chambers, Deaf Smith, El Paso, Erath, Fannin. Grayson, Harris, Jim Wells, Kleberg, Montgomery, Palo Pinto, Parker, Potter, Randall, San Patricio, and Wise.
The program is set to expand to all Texas counties in November.
It will help tenants “if their landlord agrees to access this additional rental assistance to get up to six months of rent paid on their behalf and then have their eviction dismissed,” said Latta.
Latta explains just as landlords do not have to take part in this assistance program, they also are not legally obligated to accept partial payments of rent.
Some evicted tenants say they were forced out of their homes after their landlords did not accept partial rent payments.
Stop Tx Eviction’s website provides more individualized information depending on what county a tenant lives in.
An important feature, especially because some counties, have moratoriums and other protections against evictions during the pandemic.
Evictions are still happening in many cases, Latta points out. And she fears they’ll only increase.
“There are important protections in place like the CDC order that are set to expire just after Christmas,” she pointed out. “We are very worried that if people are not able to seek the rental assistance they need, that we’re going to see the tsunami [of evictions] come January.”
Casso said he tried searching out resources in Seagoville but was not provided any help.
He believes many more Texans will find themselves in his shoes very soon.
“I know it’s going to get worse,” he said. “It’s sad how this country is falling apart like this.”
As they seek out where they’ll sleep tonight, Casso keeps in mind what his daughter always says:
“It’s going to be ok. We’re going to get through this. We don’t need a big home as long as we’re together,” he said.