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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Texas Will Help Struggling Renters, But It'll Take A While

Red eviction notice taped to open door.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

Texas will set aside $171 million of federal funding to help struggling renters catch up on missed payments and avoid homelessness as the coronavirus continues to spread widely across Texas. The news follows a federal moratorium on evictions issued at the beginning of September, and as hundreds of thousands of Texans have fallen behind on rent payments. Still, the money won't make it to cash-strapped renters until the end of the year or later.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state will funnel $167 million in federal funds that Congress approved in March to help states combat the coronavirus pandemic and cushion its economic devastation. An additional $4.2 million will fund an eviction diversion program that will give willing underwater tenants and their landlords two months to work out a resolution before continuing with eviction proceedings.

"The rental assistance and Texas Eviction Diversion Program will help courts deal with the anticipated deluge of eviction filings by reducing filings and diverting cases to an agreeable solution. Courts have worked hard to maintain access to justice during the pandemic, but we anticipate difficulty with timely handling the large number of eviction cases likely to be filed soon," said David Slayton, Administrative Director of the Texas Office of Court Administration.

The diversion program will be up and running in mid-October in designated pilot counties and in November in the rest, according to the state supreme court.

The rental assistance money will eventually be distributed by local governments and nonprofits.

Texas still needs approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development before it can distribute money to the agencies that’ll get it into the hands of stressed-out renters. That will likely take months, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which will oversee the rental assistance program.

“Depending on the speed of HUD approval, TDHCA anticipates funds will be available for eligible communities – those with existing COVID-related rental assistance programs in December," the state agency’s spokesperson, Kristina Tirloni, said. Those communities without any COVID-related rental assistance programs will most likely be eligible to begin receiving funds after the New Year begins.”

According to the Census Bureau, nearly 900,000 Texas renters reported being behind on rent at the beginning of September. More than 1.5 million Texans said they had little or no confidence they’d be able to pay rent in October.

Friday, the Texas Supreme Court ordered judges overseeing eviction proceedings to discuss the new eviction diversion program with tenants and landlords

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide eviction moratorium. The public health order covers renters who are unable to make rent because of the coronavirus and its economic impact, earn less than 99,000 dollars a year, would be rendered homeless or forced to double up if evicted. The moratorium expires in

Even with the moratorium, renters are still responsible for paying back rent and late fees. In order to be protected, renters who qualify have to sign a declaration and give it to their landlord.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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