With the threat of evictions looming, Harris County, Houston recovery czars set up task force

Statewide hold on evictions through June 28
Statewide hold on evictions through June 28

HOUSTON – The coronavirus pandemic cost millions of people their jobs and though there were significant job gains in May, many remain without a source of income.

As a result, paying rent during the pandemic has become nearly impossible for many. On March 19, Governor Greg Abbott issued a 2-month moratorium on evictions during the pandemic which expired in May. Despite the moratorium, landlords were still able to file eviction cases which piled up in those two months.

The Texas Supreme Court then ruled that evictions and debt collection may resume in the state. Eviction hearings could resume on May 19, with orders authorizing evictions allowed starting May 26.

That did not apply to certain tenants who are protected through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, including renters in homes covered by federally backed mortgages. The CARES Act is the massive federal economic aid package passed in March. If a landlord has a federally backed mortgage or participates in a federal assistance program then evictions on those properties cannot yet proceed. Dana Karni, an attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid previously told KPRC 2 that tenants who live in such places were not subject to eviction until July 25, with a 30-day notice to vacate. After that, it would not be until August 25 that an eviction notice could be filed.

However, a huge number of residents in Houston and Harris County remain uncertain of whether they will keep the roof over their heads amid the pandemic.

Thursday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a press conference that she could not issue another moratorium under the current state orders. However, she said she and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked Justices of the Peace on June 3 to postpone evictions until August 24, which would be in line with the federal CARES Act timeline.

So, now what?

With the threat of evictions looming, Houston and Harris County recovery czars announced a task force Thursday to prevent evictions while “bridging the gaps in housing stability that have been exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The Housing Stability Task Force, which will include stakeholders with deep experience in the community who touch all points of the housing stability cycle, will align resources to address evictions while developing strategies and recommendations to strengthen the region’s housing delivery system,” officials announced in a press release.

The three goals of the task force will be:

  • Prevent evictions
  • Mitigate impacts on tenants and landlords
  • Stabilize households for the benefit of public health

“We unfortunately anticipate a substantial increase in the volume in the weeks and months ahead, and we are determined to make our best attempt at proactive planning to reduce as many as we can,” said State Rep. Armando Walle, the Harris County Recovery Czar. "The Houston region had systemic barriers to affordable housing before COVID, and the current crisis has exposed in plain sight the underlying system shortcomings.With key players at the table, working together toward the same end goals, we will structure our efforts to be responsive to the immediate crisis, even as we maintain a firm resolve not to lose sight of the importance of future work required to make housing stability a reality for more people.”