AUSTIN (KXAN) — Time is running out for renters who are out of money. National and local eviction bans are set to expire in about two weeks.
Already, the number of Travis County evictions being filed in court is up.
“From January to March there was just a really large skyrocket of evictions, and we managed to flatten that curve and keep a lot of people housed at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Mincho Jacob.
Jacob is with the nonprofit Building and Strengthening Tenant Action (BASTA), which is also part of the Eviction Solidarity Network.
He says the situation for renters improved after Austin-Travis County officials temporarily banned certain evictions.
But looking at data compiled by the Eviction Solidarity Network shows since last March, eviction filings have picked back up.
Part of the increase comes in June, when the Justice of the Peace Courts reopened for two weeks, Jacob says.
“After September, there was a change, both in the Justice of the Peace and from the county judge and the mayor to allow certain evictions above $2,475 rent. That’s why you’ve seen an increase,” he explained.
He says when the courts reopened again in October, they started hearing nonpayment cases with rent more than $2,475.
Jacob says landlords are also finding other grounds on which to evict tenants.
“You have people coming in and saying, ‘oh they’re this; renter is a danger to the community.’ And you know, maybe there was an incident six months ago, and nothing has happened since,” he said.
“That’s always in the back of your mind,” said Samantha Bergeron, a tenant in Austin.
The thought of eviction crossed her mind when she found herself out of work and unable to make rent in January.
But she got lucky: She says without rent coming in, her landlord used his savings to cover the costs.
“He considered the fact that we don’t have control over what’s going on with COVID and decided that he would never punish somebody for something like that,” Bergeron said.
Another graph with data compiled through Princeton University’s Eviction Lab shows while Travis County has not nearly hit its pandemic peak of eviction filings, it is the highest it has been since last March.
Jacob says the winter storm put even more renters behind.
“All those construction workers did not work for a week, some two weeks. And so you’re talking about half your income for the month,” he said. “And a lot of those folks also, that’s where our highest impact of COVID counts are, too. So, again, a very impacted community that has seen stress after stress, and there is assistance, but it hasn’t been coming as quickly as needed.”
Jacob is hoping for an extension to the moratorium that ends at the end of the month.
“They can get past this moment, but they just need a little bit of space,” he said.
Bergeron says the East Austin Community Center paid most of what she owed, and she was able to pay the rest once she started working again.
While she’s all caught up on payments now, she knows how valuable a little breathing room can be.
“I can’t imagine… what so many people are going through right now,” Bergeron said.
KXAN asked Mayor Steve Adler’s office about when the city would be deciding whether or not to extend the eviction moratorium. He did not identify a timeline or date but offered the following statement:
“We are spending millions of dollars in rental assistance, with more to come to protect both tenants and landlords from a significant part of the economic harm from the pandemic. We have one of the lowest evictions rates in the country and that is one of the reasons we are having the kind of recovery we are experiencing in Austin.
I am concerned that when we end the moratorium there could be a rush on evictions and we are going to try to design measures to avoid that. The rental assistance is a positive step in that direction. Over time, we may also seek to avoid that rush by opening the valve of evictions slowly while taking more equities into account.”Steve Adler, Austin Mayor
Lawsuits against the CDC’s eviction moratorium
Some landlord associations are also suing the federal government over the U.S. Centers for Disease Control eviction moratorium.
Four of those cases have been decided, with two judges siding with the CDC and two, including one judge in Texas, deciding to strike down the moratorium.
Attorney Steven Gordon explained the two main arguments: “The real issue here is whether the federal government can [issue a nationwide eviction moratorium] and if it can, whether Congress has actually authorized CDC to do so,” he said.
Gordon is a partner at Holland & Knight law firm.
He says the U.S. Justice Department is appealing the two cases in which judges struck down the CDC’s eviction ban. Until that final ruling, the moratorium stands.
“I think that current tenants don’t need to be worried about the immediate impact of this decision, because that won’t be felt anytime soon. The more important questions here are the long term questions,” Gordon explained.