Since federal eviction protections ended last Saturday, Harris County Commissioners Court took action to help those facing evictions in the coming months. After hearing testimony from members of the Housing Stability Task Force and advocates for tenants’ rights, the court approved measures to provide relief to residents.
• Following a discussion initiated by Commissioner Rodney Ellis, the Harris County Commissioners Court approved the following actions to help relieve struggling renters:
• · Increasing funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Fund by $10M for a total of $25M. The fund, approved last month, also will increase the amount of assistance from the initial $1,000 to $1,200 for each qualified renter.
• · Providing an additional $25M in direct assis- tance to residents, which would be on top of the $30M distributed last month. Recipients can use the money for housing, electricity, food, childcare and other essential needs. The $30 million last month was funded through the county’s emergen- cy fund, while the latest allotment will come from the CARES Act.
• · Allocating $750,000 of CARES Act funds for legal services and other support for tenants facing eviction.
• · Working with the Housing Stability Task Force to develop programs that will help keep people in their homes during and beyond this pandemic.
“Adequate housing is a fundamental right that we should work to guarantee for everyone. Remov- ing families from their homes is always harmful, but doing so during a pandemic, when we should all be practicing social distancing, puts our entire community at danger,” said Commissioner Ellis.
Housing instability has long been an issue in Harris County, but with CARES Act Eviction protections as well as supplemental unemployment assistance payments ending, advocates warn that there could be a wave of evictions coming. Since the state eviction moratorium lifted in May, almost 5,000 eviction cases have already been filed.
“We cannot leave people with nowhere to shelter, especially during a pandemic,” said Commis- sioner Ellis. “I brought together our leading housing experts and advocates who are working on this issue to hear some proposals for what we can do to make a dent in this crisis, which is hitting our entire county, but particularly hitting low-income communities of
color.” In Texas, an estimated 1 million renters are at risk of eviction, and people of color are being hit the hardest. Also, 54% of Latinx and 37% of Black Texans have no confidence in their ability to pay next month’s rent, compared to 22% of white Texans. Studies also show that eviction can have significant long-term effects. For example, the chances of a worker losing their job is an estimated 11-22% higher for people who have been forced out of their home, compared to those who have not.
Housing instability is a widespread problem that will require local, state and national solutions, and Commissioner Ellis is looking forward to hearing ideas and proposals on how the County will work to relieve those impacted by this crisis in Harris County.