When Tomica Summers-Abuoudeh went to court in October for a hearing on her eviction case, a judge agreed the CDC’s eviction moratorium applied in her situation. Her landlord couldn’t move to evict her – at least not yet.
“I had this heavy weight on my shoulders,” said Summers-Abuoudeh, who lives in Dallas. “It was a relief.”
But the relief was short-lived. The moratorium lasts through Dec. 31. After that, she and other North Texans facing eviction for non-payment of rent won’t have another legal defense to stay in their homes, attorney Mark Melton explained.
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“They're already scheduling those hearings for the first part of January. Unless you've made a deal with your landlord or you've paid all the back rent, the judges will have no choice but to order those evictions,” Melton said.
Melton helped organize Dallas Evictions 2020, a group of around 150 attorneys offering free legal help to North Texans facing eviction during the pandemic. He said the group has worked with around 4,000 renters.
While the CDC’s moratorium temporarily stopped some residential evictions, it didn’t offer any rent relief to landlords. Tenants still owe back rent and any late fees.
Melton said some landlords were willing to work out a payment plan, but they’re not obligated to accept partial payments under Texas law.
“We're going to have to rely on the goodwill of the property owners to work with tenants, which is why I think it's very key that you communicate with your landlord,” Melton said.
Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union, said she’s especially concerned about the timing of the end of the moratorium. By the end of 2020, many Texans will lose unemployment benefits that were extended under the CARES Act. The last payable week for those benefits is Dec. 26.
“It's a very scary situation that we're looking at,” Rollins said.
Rollins said that leaves families with no safety net. Some have exhausted their savings as the pandemic stretched into the ninth month.
“There are more people that found themselves unemployed and needing help really for the very first time. Never thought they would face eviction, never thought they would need food assistance, never imagined being in this boat with so many others,” Rollins said.
There are some efforts to stem the tide. In January, the state plans to expand the Texas Eviction Diversion Program to help some renters avoid eviction.
Non-profits, including the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, are working to line up new sources of funding to provide rent and utility assistance.
Ashley Brundage, executive director of housing stability at the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, explained many North Texans would still face homelessness unless Congress steps in with a national moratorium and rental assistance funding.
“You cannot have a moratorium without the rental assistance dollars to go behind it because this is impacting our landlords, which almost half of our landlords are mom and pop landlords,” Brundage said. “They have 10 units or less. So, they rely on this income just as much as somebody is relying on that apartment to live in. We have to take care of both the tenants and the landlords when we move forward.”