As pandemic spreads, limits on eviction moratorium become clearer – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth


Although the Centers for Disease Control’s moratorium on evictions is extended until the end of March, some tenants say they risk becoming homeless sooner because their leases end.

“It’s becoming a huge problem now that we’ve been almost a year into the pandemic. Many leases expire. The CDC order, while helpful in some ways, does not protect everyone. In fact, it doesn’t protect a lot of people, ”said lawyer Mark Melton – who founded Dallas Evictions 2020 to connect tenants with free legal aid during the pandemic.

Melton said the CDC’s moratorium on evictions does not cover remaining tenants who exceed their leases. If they’ve fallen behind on rent, Melton said their options are limited.

Tenants can’t stay and they can’t leave

“We didn’t see it coming. Now we have three weeks and we don’t know what to do, ”said Nadia Guardado of Irving.

Guardado and her husband, David Delacruz, are among North Texas families who have nowhere to go when their lease ends at the end of the month.

The couple, who work in the music industry, saw their jobs dry up almost overnight last March. Guardado said her boss received a P3 loan that kept her at work for a few months, but she was back on leave. The couple said they were content with savings, unemployment benefits and credit cards until they fell behind on rent in September.

“We’ve never been late anywhere we’ve ever lived,” Guardado said.

The family handed in their signed CDC statement to delay eviction for non-payment of rent. Their landlord did not sue for eviction, but the apartment complex gave notice that it would not renew the family’s lease at the end of February 28.

Delacruz starts a painting business and said the family is getting back on their feet. They said they had found another apartment they could afford – move on. During the application process, their rental history was not verified as they owe their current owner just over $ 7,600 in rent and late fees. The new apartment broke down.

“When I got that phone call, we realized: oh my God, we’re going to be basically homeless,” Guardado said. “What are you doing? You can’t stay here. Rightly our lease is over and the owners have to make money with the unit.”

“We’re getting to the point where if we go somewhere we can get there even though we have to put in place a payment plan to pay what we owe here,” Delacruz said. “Not being able to get in anywhere because of our delay, we don’t have $ 7,000 to give. “

Today, time is running out for the couple who have three children under three at home: a son who turns three in April, a two-year-old daughter and a two-month-old baby girl.

“Watching my kids and knowing that I fight so hard to keep them alive and that it’s not their fault. Of course not. You just want to feel like a super mom and you can’t take that money out of just anywhere, ”Guardado said.

Melton said this was the case for many clients who found new jobs during the pandemic. They can’t find thousands of dollars in unpaid rent and late fees, but they can’t find another apartment to move into.

“This idea that now that you are an employee you can just go and find new accommodation is wrong,” Melton said. “There are such a limited number of homeowners who will accept people who have evictions because there are so many people competing for it. In fact, most of them are already full. There is no place for these people to go.

“We need to do a better job of figuring out how to house people who have evictions on their record and who have no other options?” Because it was because of a pandemic. It’s not their fault, ”added Melton.

“It’s a lot of households”

According to most recent Census Pulse survey, 32.9% of people in the DFW area who responded to the survey between January 20 and February 1 reported living in households that are not up to date on rent or rent payments. mortgage and where eviction or foreclosure within the next two months is very likely. or rather probable.

Sandy Rollins, Executive Director of the Texas Tenants Union, said it was time to stop simply extending the same federal moratorium on evictions. It does not offer rental relief to landlords and does not stop all evictions for people who lost income during the pandemic.

“Policymakers must step up their efforts and prevent this massive tragedy from happening. This is not a single household. That’s a lot of households, ”Rollins said.

Rollins said all levels of government, including local governments, could step in. Rollins pointed out that other cities in Texas have passed moratoriums on broader evictions to prevent homelessness at a time when the spread of the COVID-19 community is still high.

“People have to stay housed to stay safe,” Rollins said. “It’s not just for them and their homes in particular, it’s for the community as a whole.”

Filling the loopholes in the moratorium

“I think when they first issued this order, they tried to tailor it tightly so that it didn’t violate any constitutional issues, but we’re now at the point where we have new issues,” he said. said Melton.

Melton and Rollins said the CDC order was intended to protect people from the spread of COVID-19, but it is too limited to be effective because the pandemic spans a full year.

“We need to do better and make changes to these rules. Otherwise we’re going to see a lot of homeless people that we really don’t need to see, ”Melton said. “We have the money that comes in to pay the rent arrears so that the tenant can stay housed. The owner also wins because he is going to be paid.

Critics have long pointed out the limits of an eviction moratorium that fails to grant rental relief – effectively shifting the economic burden onto landlords who have their own obligations.

New program to help pay rent and utilities

Melton said he was encouraging landlords to be patient before moving to evict tenants as the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs launches the Texas Rent Relief Program February 15.

Starting at 8 a.m. on Monday, the program begins to receive requests for rental and utility assistance. Landlords can apply on behalf of tenants and tenants can apply for direct relief.

TDHCA executive director Bobby Wilkinson said the program aims to provide assistance with past and future rents within about two weeks after someone has completed the application with the required documents.

Wilkinson told NBC 5 Responds that the application process will be more streamlined than the applications some tenants have seen after the CARES Act was passed last year.

“It’s new money, it’s flexible from Congress, straight from the US Treasury for this purpose. I think it should be faster, ”Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson encourages Texans to visit the site now to determine if they are eligible for assistance. Gather your documentation and be ready to apply as soon as applications open on Monday morning.

Households must have an income equal to or less than 80% of the region’s median income. Priority will be given to households with an income equal to or less than 50% of the region’s median income or to households where at least one person is currently unemployed or was unemployed 90 days before applying.

You can find out if you meet the region’s median income requirements here. Find your county and the size of your household. In Dallas County, for example, a family of four qualifies if their household income is $ 68,950 or less.

Texas has $ 1.3 billion to spend in federal money authorized in the latest stimulus package passed by Congress in December. Part of the money will also be used to finance the planned expansion of a eviction diversion program in Texas.

Families are running out of time

Guardado and Delacruz’s apartment complex refused to speak to NBC 5 Responds. In Texas, private market owners are not required to renew leases. Leases are monthly unless the landlord gives notice. Guardado and Delacruz said their owner provided a written notice on December 24.

Guardado said the family qualified for the new Texas rent relief program and planned to apply in the hopes of paying off their current landlord. The family also received a letter from the apartment complex, asking if they would participate in the program.

With two weeks to find a solution, the family created a Go to the Fund me page.

A tough decision for a family that never fell behind on rent until a global pandemic.

“Asking for help from strangers?” We never had to do that, ”said Delacruz. “It’s just crazy to see what this has done to people. Now everyone has to ask for help. “

“You have no control over it and you don’t know when it’s going to end,” Guardado said. “You find yourself saying: When the pandemic is over, when COVID is over. You never really know when it’s going to be over.

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