A potential eviction crisis is looming and families are bracing for the end of a national ban on evictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help millions of tenants unable to make rent payments during the pandemic.
In June, the Biden administration extended the evictions ban to July 31 but said this is expected to be the last time it does so.
Here’s a list of North Texas resources renters can contact right now to help them get started:
- City of Arlington
- City of Dallas Short Term Rental Assistance Program
- City of Dallas Rent Relief
- Collin County
- Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center
- Dallas County
- Denton County
- Fort Worth
- Legal Aid of Northwest Texas
- Tarrant County
- Texas Rent Relief Program
- United Way of Dallas
DeSoto resident Kaylah Johnson said she lost her job during the pandemic and was unable to pay her rent but needed to home school her children.
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"Having to keep a roof over our head and not having a job it was very difficult," she said.
Eviction protections for renters stop after Saturday, with thousands of cases on hold in courts across the country.
Justice of the Peace Sasha Moreno in Grand Prairie said her Precinct 4 court has around 100 cases on hold with more expected after the moratorium ends.
"Unless we’re told otherwise, Monday we’ll have to start sending out hearing notices for all those cases and we’ll have to start hearing those cases, on top of all the new filings we’re receiving," Moreno said.
There are worries that the gates will burst with a flood of evictions and displaced people in the coming weeks.
"I do have a big fear that we will see a big increase of homelessness due to the fact that many more tenants may be evicted," said Attorney Trerod Hall with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas.
The Dallas attorney said local government agencies have federal money available to help people unable to pay their rent satisfy landlords and avoid evictions.
"We do have many tenants who just don’t know about the different rental assistance that is available," Hall said.
Dallas-based attorney Mark Melton with Holland & Knight said options are limited for people who do get evicted.
“Most of the shelters are full. There’s not this excess stock of affordable housing that people can just move into a new place," he said.
Melton is doing pro-bono work for families who are moments away from being homeless through an effort he helped start during the pandemic called Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center.
Melton and a team of about 200 legal volunteers have helped 8,000 clients since March 2020. He even had to hire two full-time lawyers and said he’s always looking for more volunteers with legal experience to help eviction cases.
"Throughout this pandemic evictions never stopped. They've been happening the whole time. We're just going to see a greater number now because there's no protection for tenants that are behind on rent. And if the money doesn't come fast enough from state or local programs, it's at the complete discretion of the landlord to evict or wait,” he said.
According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey, nearly a third of Texas tenants have little or no confidence that they will be able to pay next month’s rent. Of that group, nearly 40% believe they could be evicted in the next two months.
Melton said a disproportionate number of those are people from Black and Latino neighborhoods.
"There is a higher percentage of people living in poverty for all kinds of historical systemically racist reasons. And now we’re seeing some of the output from that in a sense, that those types of communities that are at the poverty line or slightly above are the ones that are most at risk for getting evicted," Melton said. “These are typically groups of people who are living paycheck to paycheck like a lot of people do. So when COVID happens and you miss one month or six months of work, it’s nearly impossible to recover from. So the rent assistance dollars are intended to fill that space."
Melton said it's not just the struggle to find work or pay next month's rent – it's the thousands of dollars in backlog rent from the past year while they were jobless that landlords still expect to receive.
"So they're constantly behind, being charged late fees. It's just an inescapable hole, absent this rental assistance program, which people should apply to as early as possible,” he said.
Resources for Renters
Attorneys and advocates are rushing to let tenants know about the local resources available to them. Some lawyers are offering legal help pro bono while nonprofits and city/county programs are distributing rental assistance through avenues that are traveling much faster than the state channels.
Judge Sasha Moreno, Dallas County Justice of the Peace for precinct 4-2 covering cities from Irving to DeSoto, said she's seen many tenants in court who didn't even know about relief money or eviction diversion programs.
“A lot of times it is a little difficult though because it’s asking them right then and there -- do you want to move forward or put this on hold for 60 days?” she said. “I am happy to see that there are many landlords who are willing to work with the tenants and give them that timeframe. Some landlords have even walked them through the process. But I do feel like for those that have been waiting for the CDC order, I’m not sure how willing landlords may be to want to push out another 60 days to apply for funding.”
Federal money has been slow to reach renters. The rollout of the $45 billion in federal rental assistance allocated by Congress to states like Texas has been rocky, with many states only distributing a fraction of their money because of software issues and a complex documentation process.
Just around $3 billion had reached people by the end of June, according to government data.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the state program has paid out $85 million to help more than 13,000 households. There's still plenty more money available in the city of Dallas, which has paid out $14 million of the more than $40 million it has been allocated so far. The city is expecting to get another $50 million to distribute in rental assistance through 2024. Dallas County and other North Texas governments also have rental assistance money available.
“What we need to see immediately is cutting a lot of this red tape around the rent assistance programs. It’s too difficult, there’s too many documents that need to be required, and it really slows down the process,” said Melton. “When you’re facing an eviction and it takes 60 days to get the rent assistance problem payments processed, there’s a lot of landlords that aren’t really that patient. They’d rather not deal with it, get somebody new and take their chances.”
Melton said relief money being distributed locally through nonprofits by way of the city of Dallas and Dallas County – for instance – is moving much faster than the state, with checks coming through as fast as seven to 10 days.
“It really depends on the flexibility of the landlord in their situation. There are a good number of landlords that are acting in their own self-interest and just sitting tight and waiting for the rent assistance to come," Melton said. "If you evict the tenant, you don’t get paid. So you’re just foregoing that money that you could get from the government. So a lot of landlords are being patient."
Legal Aid Attorney Hall has been working with landlords, encouraging them to help tenants apply for the money.
"I would urge the landlords to do so, so that we can keep tenants housed and the landlords can get the money they are owed," Hall said.
Judge Moreno said Dallas County will have “housing navigators" in court next week to help arrange assistance and eviction diversion programs.
"We're hopeful that potentially that the navigators are able to talk to both landlords and tenants and that they are going to be more willing to participate in the diversion program and put the case on hold for 60 days since there is a tangible person to answer some of those questions,” said Moreno.
Moreno said she has also observed a trend in the evictions coming into her court. Many of them are default judgements, which happens when the defendant doesn’t show up at all to court, despite being served a notice by a constable.
“A lot of my cases, I would say probably about 50% of them just don’t show up. We can’t give you the resources or explain them to you if you’re not actually coming to court," she said. “I think some people are scared to come. And some people think, 'Yep, it’s been a year since I paid rent so why bother to come and talk to the judge.' And they just give up.”
The consequence of getting evicted doesn't stop at just losing a home.
"Once you have an eviction on your record, most apartment complexes and landlords will not rent to you or locate you if you’ve had an eviction in the prior two years," Melton explained.
In the meantime, his team has been working to locate properties that can make exceptions for clients in need.
“It’s going to be really tough at scale to re-house a lot of these people just because of that eviction on the record. It not only removed them from home now but it removes them from any home for the next two years potentially."
DeSoto tenant Kylah Johnson went online, applied for the Dallas County Rental Assistance and received it quickly to pay current and back rent to her landlord.
"It really surprises me that they did help. It’s not all the time that you click on a link that it actually works, you know. So, it’s a surprising situation," Johnson said.
Here’s a list of North Texas resources renters can contact right now to help them get started: