Renters prepare for tough choices as eviction proceedings resume in Texas

An apartment complex in Pasadena. While Harris County's eviction moratorium is still in place, many Texans behind on their rent after the coronavirus' economic downturn could soon face eviction.      Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune
An apartment complex in Pasadena. While Harris County's eviction moratorium is still in place, many Texans behind on their rent after the coronavirus' economic downturn could soon face eviction. Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

Phoenix Morgaine doesn’t want to move, but a “for rent” sign has been in the front yard of her Belton home for more than a month. Her landlord had already left a notice to vacate in her door at the start of April. As the coronavirus pandemic swept across Texas, her pet-sitting business almost fully stopped, and she was making a third of what she normally earned.

It wasn't enough to pay her rent.

“I told him, ‘I’m sorry this is happening, it’s out of our control,’” Morgaine said.

But the landlord insisted that she had to leave even though the Texas Supreme Court had halted eviction proceedings statewide since March 19. But last week, the state's highest civil court allowed eviction proceedings to resume starting Tuesday.

Morgaine, who pays her rent on the 23rd of each month, will owe $1,650 in rent plus utilities and other fees as of Saturday. The statewide eviction moratorium gave Morgaine some assurance that she wasn’t going to be forced out of her home during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the local authorities in Bell County, where she resides, haven’t been explicit in banning evictions.

Yet she now expects her landlord will evict her soon, putting her among an unknown number of Texans facing eviction during a public health crisis and its parallel economic downturn. And housing advocates are warning that with more than 1.9 million Texans filing for unemployment relief in the last two months, eliminating eviction protections for renters could soon lead to an increase in homelessness.

“This puts a lot of renters in an even more difficult place than they were before, having to make difficult decisions between getting food on their table or a roof over their heads,” said Heather K. Way, director of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic at the University of Texas Law School. “There will be many people losing their housing, as they have fallen through the cracks of the different and limited eviction protections available.”

The number of people who could be impacted by lifting the eviction moratoriums is not known because there's no data available yet to understand who is covered by the patchwork of regulations existing in the state. But Way said affordable housing was already scarce in Texas and that renters have been disproportionately affected by the economic crisis created by COVID-19.