As COVID-19 Continues To Spread, Harris County Courts Are Moving Forward With Evictions

County and city officials have declined to take actions that are currently protecting renters from eviction in other Texas cities.

By Jen RiceJune 24, 2020 3:58 pm, , , , , ,

From Houston Public Media:

The Texas Supreme Court’s moratorium on evictions — an order issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — was lifted May 18, allowing eviction proceedings to resume across the state.

In many cities, renters are still protected by additional local measures. But in Houston, local officials have not enacted policies to prevent evictions — and COVID-19 cases are continuing to spike.

And the county’s justices of the peace — tasked with overseeing eviction proceedings — have not committed to an eviction moratorium.

“The folks in whose hands this now lies are the justices of the peace. So they have full discretion and authority to postpone,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told Houston Public Media. “I’m hoping that each of the 16 judges commits to doing this. And we were very intentional about writing to each of them individually so folks can see which have committed to do this for the community and which have not.”

Earlier this month, Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sent a letter to Harris County’s 16 justices of the peace, asking them to issue an order formally postponing evictions until the end of August, to align with federally subsidized properties that already have extended eviction protection under the federal CARES Act.

Hidalgo argued it’s the JP judges’ responsibility to keep people in their homes during a public health crisis.

“All of us have a role to play in our county. We’re doing the contact tracing. We’re doing the testing. We’re doing the work in nursing homes. We are working incredibly aggressively. We’re giving aid to people,” Hidalgo said. “The justices of the peace can help by postponing evictions.”

Harris County has seen more than 7,000 eviction filings since March, according to research by January Advisors. Jeff Reichman, an analyst with the firm, said that’s actually a vast underestimate of the total number of evictions in the area, because countless people simply pack up and leave when they get an eviction notice rather than go through due process.

“Some people don’t want to go to court. It’s scary to them,” Reichman said, “and so it’s a less scary option to simply pack up and leave.”

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