Before the new coronavirus outbreak, local families losing their homes through eviction were forced into a constrained housing market. According to a recent report, in the Houston area there are only 19 affordable and available rental homes per 100 tenants seeking a place to live. The poorest of evicted people are frequently unable to find immediate re-housing. Instead, at best, they double up with friends and relatives, splitting up households to ensure they have a roof over their head. At worst, they hop from couch to couch (perhaps between cities), sleep rough in public spaces, or move between nightly hotels. Local eviction rates were already a massive and heartbreaking public health concern, but during a pandemic they are unquestionably dangerous.
A now expired emergency order issued in March permitted each justice of the peace to suspend eviction filings, effectively forestalling the harm of creating thousands of unhoused people during this pandemic or forcing people into crowded courtrooms to have their cases heard. Thanks to public pressure at that time all JPs 16 had suspended their eviction dockets, but when Texas decided we should "re-open" evictions resumed.
Already, churches are reporting parishioners seeking assistance for next month’s rent due to lost income as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Mutual aid assistance funds are cropping up for bar and restaurant workers concerned about rent at the first of the month. As furloughs and layoffs continue, more and more of our neighbors will need help. How we survive this crisis should not be left up to individual judges.
Calls for a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosure have also been issued, but may be politically difficult to achieve. In the meantime, Houston and Texas needn’t wait. Every justice of the peace and constable’s office in Texas must suspend eviction dockets and issuing writs at once and keep them suspended for at least 60 days. During the suspension civic leaders can develop a compassionate plan on how and when courts will resume their normal functioning post-crisis in a way that allows renters an opportunity to get caught up once they resume work.
It has taken a pandemic for our region to realize just how vulnerable we already were, but there’s no reason for our region to live with the stress of precarity. For some Houstonians, this crisis is particularly acute, and the universal risk of virus infection shows how we are all connected to each other's vulnerability. It also reveals the paper-thin margins and risk that millions in Harris County and our country face every day. This will not be the last disaster to hit our home, city and region.
Now more than ever, it is clear that everyone’s well being is connected and that health does not play out at the scale of the individual. It is well known that safe, sanitary and secure housing reduces health risk and improves well-being. The true long-term solution to evictions is not emergency bans, but a universal housing guarantee that ensures all of us can live with dignity. Housing provided as a right will benefit the most marginalized among us, but COVID-19 shows that it will also protect us all.
Evictions in Harris County is at the discretion of each individual Justice of the Peace. There are 16 Justices of the Peace in Harris County and THEY oversee evictions. Here is a list of all JPs compiled by Zoe Middleton:⬇️ YOU SHOULD CONTACT THEM NOW TO TAKE ACTION!
On average eviction case volume typically spikes around the middle of the month (8th - 12th) and here is the docket schedule for each court week by week:
(OPEN LETTER) Governor Greg Abbott: Suspend Rent, Mortgage, & Utility Payments During the Corona Virus Crisis - March 2020
COVID-19 (also known as corona virus) has been classified as a global pandemic. State and federal officials are encouraging people who feel sick to stay home, but many workers struggle to make rent or mortgage payments. The choice to skip work for the sake of community health could leave them and their families un-sheltered.
In order to protect the health and housing security of our community, we, the undersigned, call on Governor Abbott to act now so workers won't have to make that choice. Specifically, we call for a suspension of all rent, mortgage, and utility payments for 2 full months to allow people to do what they need to in order to take care of themselves, their loved ones, and the community.
The legacy of every public official currently serving will be determined in the next few months.
It's time to act now, and choose the right side of history. Choose the people.