In Houston, Whether Or Not You’re Evicted Can Depend On The Judge

Shemeka Smith is used to helping others. She's a nursing student in Clear Lake and planned to assist elderly people and veterans with social services this year.

But that job offer evaporated with the pandemic, so now she's in the uncomfortable position of needing help herself: She got temporary rent relief through the city and county’s public program administered by nonprofit Baker Ripley, but she's emptied her savings while applying for jobs.

Running out of luck, she went online and found out about the federal eviction moratorium. She read the rules laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, printed out the form, and gave it to the apartment manager.

The manager threw the form in the trash, telling her that they aren't participating in the program. Smith pushed back, informing the manager that the CDC order is a federal rule, not a voluntary program.

"A couple hours later, she put an eviction notice on my door," Smith said.

Smith’s is just one example of the moratorium's chaotic and uneven results in the Houston area. According to data from consulting firm January Advisors, less than 3% of renters in Harris County eviction courts have legal representation, so most of them are on their own. And the outcome of those cases can depend on which judge you step in front of.

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