HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- President Biden's newly appointed CDC chief has extended the eviction moratorium due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Houston Housing Authorities said there is still time for both tenants and landlords to sign up for extra resources.
On Wednesday night, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky sent the following statement regarding extending the eviction moratorium.
"As a protective public health measure, I will extend the current order temporarily halting residential evictions until at least March 31, 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to our nation's health. It has also triggered a housing affordability crisis that disproportionately affects some communities. Despite extensive mitigation efforts, COVID-19 continues to spread in America at a concerning pace. We must act to get cases down and keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings - like shelters - where COVID-19 can take an even stronger foothold."
Tenants and landlords have to complete the eviction declaration form, which can be found on the CDC's website.
The president of the Houston Apartment Association John Boriack said this extension fails to address the issue that people can not pay their rent.
"The problem with the [CDC's] Eviction Moratorium is it addresses the wrong problem," Boriack said. "The problem is not the eviction. The problem is renters cannot pay their rent, and if renters can pay their rent, it solves all the other issues downstream. Whereas if you just put a halt on evictions, it creates this backlog from a bigger issue that kicks the can down the road and allows the problem to grow."
Mark Thiele, the Interim President and CEO of the Houston Housing Authority, said the HHA is not currently serving evictions. Thiele said he believes extending the moratorium is appropriate and he's optimistic that it will help alleviate part of the problem.
"We've been looking for a strong federal response on evictions," Thiele said. "We've had very strong local leadership on the issue. About $150 million in rental and direct assistance has been provided by the city and Harris County, and I expect local leaders to continue to do that as we move forward."
Thiele said about 48% of renters in Texas are struggling to pay their rent and the HHA serves about a quarter of demand. According to the HHA, currently, "eviction activity is elevated, but steady," according to January Advisors data.
Since January 2020, there have been 34,754 eviction cases filed to date in Harris County.
"We're in an affordable housing crisis," Thiele said. "We were in an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic. This has only exacerbated that so certainly we could call upon the federal government for additional voucher funding for additional public housing funding, but the attention to the imminent crisis, the eviction crisis, I do think is appropriate."
People like Brian Portwood say it's a much needed relief.
Portwood, a renter in northwest Harris County, said his landlord took him to court this week regarding his rent. According to Portwood, the judge ruled in his favor.
"It really does depend on your situation," said Portwood. "If you're in the situation like me, to where you don't have anywhere else to go, it buys you time and sometimes that's all people need, just a little bit of time."
Portwood said he applied for Baker Ripley's rental assistance program and received some financial help. Brian has been out of a job since Oct. 2020, and he's behind on three months of rent now.
He also recently learned of a medical condition and has been in-and-out of the hospital for two weeks, adding to his family's mounting bills.
Portwood said he doesn't know if he will make it to his 47th birthday this Sunday, but just wants other people to know there are resources out there for both landlords and renters.
"Reach out. Don't stop at 211," Portwood said. "There are people out there who can help and will help, you just have to find the right ones."
There is a Go Fund Me account set up for individuals interested in helping Portwood and his family with their medical bills and rent.
A representative with BakerRipley said its rental assistance program was funded by the City and Harris County. Now, all the funds have been exhausted.
According to its rental assistance website, it states: "We encourage all Tenants needing assistance to complete the application.
We will keep Tenant applications on file and notify applicants should additional rental assistance funds become available in the future."
Utility assistance is still available through BakerRipley.
Harris County Constable Precinct 1 Alan Rosen's office said its eviction hotline is still available. The following statement was sent Thursday afternoon:
"We've spent over $70k overall for our evictions assistance relief effort so far. That includes partnership with the South Texas College of Law Houston and Lone star Legal Aid. If you would, please give out this hotline to those who might benefit from free legal help! (346) 250-1069.
We continue to evaluate the best way to spend the remainder of the funds collected and will be looking to have the greatest impact possible as the crisis continues."
Lone Star Legal Aid also has a "Stop TX Eviction" tool on its COVID-19 resource pages, including a video that explains the CDC's order.
"There are landlords out there that will try to oppose it, but it doesn't hold up in court," Portwood said. "You don't give up because when you do, that's when you lose everything."
Tenants facing pending evictions can call: South Texas College of Law Houston at (346) 250-1069 or Lone Star Legal Aid at (800) 733-8394 or email STCL Houston at: email@example.com.
Click here for a list of organizations that can help renters with financial assistance from the Houston Apartment Association.
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