Where Houstonians who can't pay rent during COVID-19 can turn for help

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Millions of Americans are facing eviction after a federal protection granted by the CARES Act expired on July 24.

The CARES Act was a bill passed by the U.S. government in March to help provide financial help to Americans affected by the coronavirus. One part of the bill included an 'eviction moratorium,' which protected tenants, who live on federally backed property or low income housing and couldn't pay rent, from being evicted.

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Houston continues to increase, many residents in the area are in this predicament.

"On top of a public health crisis, I'm afraid that we're heading into a homelessness crisis in Houston," said Jon-Ross Trevino with Lone Star Legal Aid.

READ MORE: Federal rule protects thousands of renters from eviction expired Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic

As the managing attorney for the Housing and Consumer Unit, he says on top of losing work from the COVID-19 pandemic, the most vulnerable Americans could also lose their homes.

On July 25, the day after this federal protection for tenants ended, Lone Star Legal Aid received 1,358 applications for eviction help - a 36% increase from the number of applications received on the same date of last year.

"Almost every single applicant has had some kind of decrease in their income because of COVID," said Trevino. "People have lost family members due to COVID, and they're still being evicted."

He also said they've been busy all summer long after a state moratorium to protect all Texas renters, low-income or not, expired on May 25.

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The day after the Texas protection ended, Lone Star Legal Aid saw a 24% increase in eviction applications from the number received on the same date last year.

"The saddest thing is we're in the middle of this health crisis, and we have landlords shutting off their utilities on their tenants, forcing them out into the public," added Trevino.

Almost 40% of people in Houston and about one third in Los Angeles and New York say they don't have money to pay the rent or mortgage.

In Harris, Galveston and Fort Bend counties, each precinct's Justice of the Peace enforces eviction proceedings.

ABC13 reached out to many of them on Monday, and most said they have been accepting eviction filings, processing them and granting the evictions.

One court, Harris Co. Pct. 1 Place 2 Judge David Patronella, told ABC13 he is halting all evictions for purely non-payment through Aug. 7.

Trevino said tenants who receive a notice to vacate do have 30 days to fight the eviction and seek rental help.

"The eviction is so fast, they can get their notice to vacate, and three weeks later the trial is done, and a constable is at their door," he said.

He urges renters to reach out to Lone Star Legal Aid and to avoid fighting eviction alone.

Lone Star Legal Aid has created an online application process if you need help with your eviction.

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