Houston union leaders call for emergency rent relief amid pandemic

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With unemployment numbers climbing and the country at an all-out economic standstill, a group of Houston pastors and union leaders want more protection for the city's renters.

The group is calling on Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to pass a city ordinance that provides emergency relief to help working tenants, according to a statement by the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation.

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"Fifty-four percent of Houston's residents are tenants," said Jay Malone, political director for the federation. "As Houston's unemployment rate spikes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, city council and the mayor should extend protections to tenants beyond the Texas Supreme Court's prohibition on eviction hearings."

The calls for rent relief include a request to ban extreme late fees, evictions, and notices to vacate during the pandemic. The state of Texas has suspended evictions until the end of April, but that may not stop notices from being served to people who are behind on rent.

SEE ALSO: Harris Co. evictions on hold for now amid coronavirus crisis

Housing advocates say the situation in the United States reveals a bigger crisis with affordable housing that goes beyond the current virus emergency. And they have grave fears about what happens next, when tenants and homeowners face back payments and are still broke from being jobless.

Officials in more than three dozen cities and states, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York state, have put in place their own policies to halt evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs out of concern that the economic fallout from massive job losses will push many people to the brink of homelessness at a time when they need to stay in their houses and apartments.

The measures vary in scope, and have included a monthslong reprieve for renters and homeowners who can show that their inability to pay is related to the coronavirus upheaval.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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