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COVID-19 Could Create an Eviction Crisis in Tarrant County

In my role at CTL, I have been actively addressing landlord/tenant issues for nearly a year now, under the auspices of the Coalition for Homeless Children. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the urgency of this work for homeless service providers and eviction prevention programs. As I visit with CTL supporters and stakeholders in the community, the same questions and misconceptions have come up repeatedly – many we are addressing here. If you have additional questions, please feel free to reach out anytime via email, or check out one of our Tenant Empowerment Workshops on Zoom.

Q: I heard all evictions were banned because of COVID, why are people so worried about paying their rent?

Mixed messages and patchwork legislation have led to a lot of confusion in this area. In Texas, there was a statewide moratorium on eviction proceedings from March 19-May 25. However, this moratorium only applied to the actual court proceedings; it did not prevent landlords from filing evictions. Additionally, all rents (and fees) continued to accumulate and remained due in full. The legislation essentially “paused” the eviction process without allowing for rent forgiveness. In Tarrant County, nearly 1,000 evictions were filed between April 1 and June 24 and those cases are now being heard, along with the nearly 1,200 that were in the queue before the courts suspended hearings in mid-March.

The CARES Act, passed by Congress on March 27, includes a ban on evictions and late fees through July 25. However, these protections only apply to tenants in properties with a federally-backed mortgage. Researchers estimate that equates to about 28% of renters nationally.

Overall, renters in Texas have largely been left to fend for themselves during this crisis. According to the COVID policy scorecard recently released by the Princeton Eviction Lab, Texas ranks 50th among the states in terms of tenant protections.

Q: I think that some landlords just use the eviction process as a way to “get people’s attention” – it doesn’t mean that they’ll lose their housing, as long as they come up with the money, right?

Texas is one of only a handful of states that does not offer renters an “Opportunity to Cure a Default.” That means that once eviction paperwork is filed (sometimes as soon as the second day of the month), the landlord is under no obligation to accept any further payments from a tenant. Under current law, landlords even have the option to accept late payments from tenants but still move forward with the eviction process under the terms of the lease. This means that a tenant can pay everything owed to a landlord and still be forced into homelessness. For this reason, I believe that Opportunity to Cure legislation is desperately needed in Texas (especially during the COVID crisis!) to allow families that may have experienced a temporary financial hardship the opportunity to pay their debt (rent and fees) in full before the final eviction ruling by a Justice of the Peace. Dallas joined several other cities in Texas in passing a 60-day grace period as part of their COVID response, but there are no such protections yet in Fort Worth or Tarrant County.

Q: By the time people get evicted, they must be thousands of dollars in debt. How could a rental assistance program possibly cover those expenses or be sustainable? Won’t they just be out on the street the next month?

According to research done by the Princeton Eviction Lab, roughly one-third of evictions in the US are carried out for an amount that equals less than one month’s rent. Sometimes this balance includes only fees and penalties. Investing in effective rental assistance program, especially when paired with Economic Mobility programs like those offered at CTL, can be effective in keeping families housed. The alternative is an eviction that damages their credit and rental history for years to come, making finding new housing next to impossible. Eviction not only results in loss of housing, it can result in a loss of community when people are forced to move, a loss of possessions when things that can’t be carried get left behind, job loss and school disruption.

All of these effects have a detrimental effect on mental health and contribute to future poverty. There is also a significant cost to the community in terms of homeless services. The Coalition for the Homeless estimates that keeping a family housed saves taxpayers $38,000 per year in shelter costs.

So what can we do?

CTL is pleased to announce that we are launching a new Rental Assistance program under the umbrella of our Economic Mobility program, to assist families throughout Tarrant County who have experienced a loss of income due to COVID. More information on this program will be available on our website in the near future.

If you are interested in getting personally involved in this work, please consider reaching out to your legislators to ask them to support Opportunity to Cure legislation. Additionally, please consider a gift to the Coalition for Homeless Children at CTL to support our tenant advocacy and education initiatives.