Eviction filings in major Texas cities are at an all-time high

Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin all ranked in the top 10 cities for new eviction cases in early April, among the 31 cities tracked by Eviction Lab.

TEXAS, United States – Eviction claims in Texas’ largest cities have reached their highest level since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as federal rent assistance dollars dry up and the increased living expenses squeeze struggling tenants.

Editorial note: The video above is taken from a related story.

Homeowners in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, cities that regularly file some of the highest numbers of eviction applications in the nation, together filed more than 37,000 evictions in the first three months of 2022, according to data from organizations that follow evictions in these cities show – levels not seen since the start of the pandemic.

Of the 31 cities tracked by Eviction Lab, a Princeton University-based research center that studies evictions, the Houston area had the second-highest number of evictions filed in the nation in the first week of evictions. April, just behind New York. Dallas and Fort Worth were also in the top five for weekly evictions, along with Phoenix.

And in Austin, the number of eviction cases has skyrocketed since the local ban on most evictions ended last year. Austin ranked eighth among cities on the Foreclosure Lab list, behind Las Vegas and Philadelphia.

RELATED: Promises of more rent relief help leave Texas landlords in landlord limbo

The high rate of case filings comes after government eviction bans expired and the well of federal rent relief dollars nearly dried up. Now tenants in Texas who have struggled to make ends meet as COVID-19 ravaged the economy are having to do without the safety net built during the pandemic to keep people housed – as rents in many large cities have grown by double digits over the past two years, and rising inflation is making it harder for struggling households to also afford expenses like groceries and gas.

“We can’t say for sure, but it seems like there’s kind of a perfect storm of factors colliding,” said Ashley Flores, senior director of the nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab in Dallas.

Until recently, Austin had some of the strictest eviction bans in the state to help the city’s poorest residents stay in their homes amid a runaway housing market. Austin’s rents have risen more than 21% since March 2020, according to Apartment List figures, faster than any other major city in Texas. Home prices there have skyrocketed amid the pandemic; the median selling price of a home in Austin topped $600,000 last month, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.

RELATED: Some landlords got part of Texas’ $2 billion in rent relief – and still evicted their struggling tenants

These protections are now gone. Since city and county emergency ordinances barring most evictions in Austin and Travis County expired in December, landlords there have filed more than 2,500 eviction cases in about four months, according to Eviction Lab figures – more than owners searched in the 21 months between March 2020 and the end of 2021.

“We really think we’re going to see that number increase in a really drastic way, because the pressure points that exist now are much worse than they were in 2019,” said Building and Strengthening spokesperson Mincho Jacob. Holding Action. , or BASTA Austin. “Where you used to see evictions, gentrification and people struggling to survive, it’s exponentially now and there’s hardly any protection.”

In many cases, landlords have waited months for tenants to collect back rent or for rental assistance funds to arrive, said David Mintz, vice president of government affairs for the Texas Apartment Association, a group business of rental property owners. With housing assistance funds drying up, landlords often have no choice but to evict tenants, he said.

“Unfortunately, from a landlord’s perspective, when someone is unable to pay their rent, depending on the circumstances, there aren’t many other options for them,” Mintz said.

Meanwhile, the state’s federal rental assistance reserve has been nearly empty. During the pandemic, the US Treasury Department sent more than $3.7 billion to Texas to fund the state’s rent relief program as well as local rent relief funds.

Almost all of this money was spent, although some was clawed back by the federal government because residents couldn’t spend the money fast enough. In March, the Treasury Department recovered $10 million from rental programs in nine Texas cities and counties, including Laredo, Dallas County and Hays County.

At the same time, the Treasury released an additional $70.6 million to lease relief programs in Texas that it deemed capable of effectively distributing funds, including the state program and those in Houston, San Antonio and Austin. But many of these programs, including state ones, aren’t accepting new applications because they’re using the new dollars to try to resolve a backlog of applicants.

Even when landlords receive rent relief, it does not guarantee that tenants will stay housed.

“Uncle Sam is out of money,” said Dana Karni, an attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid, which provides free legal services to low-income Texans, including tenants facing eviction. “And so landlords have to make their decision: Are they going to try to work with the tenant – and some tenants, I think, are more fragile than others – or do they just want to move on?”

The future of the state’s remaining protections for renters is unclear. Under an emergency order from the Supreme Court of Texas, local justices of the peace must allow representatives of legal aid groups or pro bono legal services into their courtrooms to counsel tenants under threat of eviction – typically tenants do not have legal representation at eviction hearings. Often just having a lawyer can help keep a tenant housed, say legal aid lawyers.

The same Supreme Court order requires judges to adjourn eviction cases if a landlord confirms they have applied for housing assistance or joined a tenant’s request for rent relief.

This order expires in May – and it is not known if the court will renew it.

Some justices of the peace have become more deliberate during the pandemic when it comes to deciding eviction cases, Travis County Justice of the Peace Judge Nicholas Chu said. It is common for eviction hearings to last no more than a few minutes, but some judges are now taking longer to hear cases to ensure they are not throwing people out of their homes if there is a viable alternative, Chu said.

“Going forward, I think the courts will be more active in trying to prevent unnecessary evictions,” Chu said.

Even so, some worry that the higher number of eviction requests is here to stay.

“I think once we see a particular volume of deportation cases, and the economy or the whole society doesn’t collapse as a result, there’s no reason to back down,” Karni said. , the attorney for Lone Star Legal Aid. “There’s no reason to go back to a smaller number unless someone else pays the bills.”

KHOU 11 on social networks: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube

This story comes from our partners KHOU 11 News at The Texas Grandstanda nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates — and engages with — Texans about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.

About Bernice Dyer

Check Also

Midsize U.S. law firms see demand edge in tough year – report

People with briefcases walk out of the meeting room during the meeting of the financial …