Despite A New Federal Ban, Many Renters Are Still Getting Evicted

September 14, 2020

Houston Public Media sent a reporter to four different courthouses last week to observe about 100 eviction cases, and found that only one renter was able to use the CDC order to block their eviction. So in 99% of those cases the order was having no effect at all.

Legal aid attorneys in Houston also say it's still too often business as usual at eviction hearings. The judges aren't asking landlords if tenants sent them CDC declarations. Many tenants don't show up. And among those that do, most don't appear to even know about their rights under the CDC order. The judges don't ask them about that. And in the vast majority of cases, the landlord is given the right to evict them. That's despite the CDC order, in the middle of a pandemic.

"This is a emergency order from the Center for Disease Control to prevent people from dying," says John Henneberger, co-director of Texas Housers, a prominent housing policy nonprofit. He's watching this play out in courts across the state and the country. And he sees lots of confusion.

"We're still working in that murky period between [when] the order hits and the courts and the government bureaucracy figures out how to actually implement it," he says. Henneberger says the state judicial systems need to quickly offer more guidance to lower court judges on how to do that.

"There's a lot of people already falling through the cracks," he says. "And every day that goes on people's lives are being put at risk by being evicted.

And he fears things are likely to get worse. Henneberger points to an ongoing U.S. Census Pulse Survey, aimed at assessing the effects of the pandemic, which finds that both in Texas and nationally about a quarter of renters have low confidence in meeting their next rent payment.

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