Harris County and city leaders form task force to help families avoid eviction

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Harris County and City of Houston leaders announced an effort Thursday to help families avoid eviction.

They have formed a Housing Stability Task Force aimed at struggling families, especially those who've been exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Rep. Armando Walle, Harris County's Recovery Czar, and Marvin Odum, the City of Houston's COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Czar, are teaming up for the initiative.

EMBED More News Videos

If you or anyone else is struggling and facing eviction, this is how the task force is planning to help.

Rep. Walle said the task force will address three pressing needs: preventing evictions, mitigating impacts on tenants and landlords and stabilizing households for the benefit of public health.

The task force is expected to include 15 to 20 people who have backgrounds ranging from housing and government to non-profits that provide services such as legal aid.

"Evictions were a serious issue before the COVID-19 pandemic, and they will continue to be of great concern throughout the course of the economic downturn," Walle said, adding officials expect the number of evictions to increase greatly in the coming weeks and months.

"The Houston region had systemic barriers to affordable housing before COVID, and the current crisis has exposed in plain sight the underlying system shortcomings," he said.

Walle and Odum acknowledged the need among residents is great.

In May, Harris County had to suspend its rental assistance application process after just 90 minutes because thousands of users were attempting to sign on at the same time.

The non-profit group BakerRipley was responsible for $15 million in relief funds designed to help Houston tenants who had fallen behind on rent due to COVID-19 hardships.

In less than an hour, nearly $1 million in applications had been received, the city said.

"It is important that we pull together the relevant stakeholders to help identify near-term solutions while laying a foundation to address the longer-term, systemic need to build a resilient housing ecosystem," Odum said. "At the same time, we must also keep expectations realistic, as there are simply not enough financial resources nor a sufficient supply of affordable housing stock available to avoid an immense amount of pain and difficulty for individuals, families, neighborhoods, and the broader community."

Last week, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner asked the county Justices of the Peace not to evict anyone until July 25. The required 30-day notice would mean that no one would be evicted before August 25.

Hidalgo said, "The last thing we need is folks unhoused in the streets in the middle of this crisis instead of being able to seek shelter and to isolate."

The state said evictions can continue but Hidalgo said it's not required.

"We heard from the county attorney's office that he concluded that the Justices of the Peace are within their full authority and within their full discretion to postpone evictions. That's what we've seen from other counties. In El Paso for example, they've postponed evictions until the end of June."
Copyright © 2020 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.