Legal advocates are warning of a potential ‘tidal wave’ of evictions as renters find themselves unable to make ends meet amid COVID-19.
Worry has set in for many facing joblessness and federal unemployment benefits of $600 set to end this weekend.
“Every day I wake up and I’m just like, what’s next,” said Merry Collins.
The Dallas resident has most of her belongings packed up in boxes as she finds herself fighting several battles, against COVID-19 and eviction.
“In between me being sick, I’m up sick with a fever and still packing because I don’t know when they’re going to knock and say get out now,” she said.
The single mother and her 17-year-old disabled son, who also contracted the virus, received notice Friday morning to appear in court for eviction proceedings.
Collins says this is her landlord’s second attempt to evict her from Overton Park Apartments in Oak Cliff where she’s lived for two years.
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Collins admits she has not been able to pay rent the past three months after losing her job.
She says she applied for rental assistance through the city of Dallas and was initially approved.
“Because I applied for assistance [the city] agreed to help out but the apartments aren’t taking it unless it’s the amount paid in full: May, June and July’s rent,” she claims.
NBC 5 called Overton Park Apartments where a representative who answered the phone said they had “no comment” on this case.
Collins says her apartment’s first attempt at evicting her was dismissed because they did not follow the city’s ordinance providing a 60-day delay in eviction proceedings.
“I never imagined myself in this situation, ever,” she said. “I’ve worked hard to make sure I provided for my kids and to go through this and be helpless, I don’t have words. It’s difficult.”
Attorney Mark Melton at Holland & Knight’s Dallas office has a dire prediction if tenants like Collins no longer receive an additional $600 a week in federal unemployment insurance benefits.
The stipend is set to end on Saturday.
“I expect that in the next few weeks it’s going to be a tidal wave of evictions,” said Melton. “You’ve got tenants who are a vulnerable population, who a lot don’t have anywhere to go, and we’re going to see a spike in homelessness as a result of this. We don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it.”
Melton points to several factors including Dallas’ unemployment rate of 12%, compared to 3% last year. He also says 55% of residents in the city are renters and the city has a high poverty rate.
Princeton University’s Eviction Lab recently reported approximately 28 million people in the U.S. could be evicted as a result of the pandemic, the number could be in the thousands in Dallas, said Melton.
“A lot of people that are recently unemployed, this is the first time this has happened to them and now they find themselves in a potion without a federal stipend where unemployment is $400-$500 a week. It’s difficult to pay your rent with that much money,” he said.
Melton and a coalition of attorneys is helping Dallas renters facing eviction, free of charge.
He reminds tenants of a city ordinance providing a 60-day delay in the eviction process, aimed at giving renters time to find solutions.
“Our goal really is [ensuring] all the rules are followed. Trying to avoid a mass homelessness event here in Dallas. The situation is pretty dire,” he said. “Every eviction that we’ve defended has been dismissed for failing to comply with the procedural rules.”
Melton says if your landlord gives you ‘notice of proposed eviction,’ you must reply within 21 days explaining your situation.
Tenants then get 60 days from the original date to find some kind of compromise.
Only after the 60-day period can the landlord post notice to vacate in 72 hours.
Remember, he says, this only applies to City of Dallas renters.
Those living outside city limits and in other communities have less time to find solutions.
“If you don’t leave within the 72 hours, the only thing that happens is the landlord is then going to file an eviction suit,” said Melton. “And then once that goes through the process and the judge orders the eviction then six days later, you can be removed from a property. But not any sooner than that.”
Armed with an attorney of her own with the help of the Texas Tenants Union, but still in quarantine with the virus, Collins can only wait and hope for better days ahead.
“If I look at the whole picture it’s so overwhelming that I can’t function,” she said. “The only way I’m able to do it is I look at today. Today, I have a roof over my head and today I’m able to breathe.”
Collins has set up a GoFundMe account to help pay rent.
For more information about attorneys providing pro bono legal help for city of Dallas renters, visit: https://dallasevictions2020.com/.