By David C. Stout
The pandemic has taken so much from us — jobs, our way of life, our health, and for far too many, relatives and loved ones have been lost here in El Paso and across the nation.
Some stand to lose even more in the months to come, namely the sanctity of home. Organizations like Project BRAVO and advocates such as Texas Housers have sounded the alarm about a potential eviction tsunami.
My colleagues and I tried to get in front of this crisis, approving a cash infusion into our Rental Assistance Program, which is available to those who reside outside El Paso city limits. Our counterparts on City Council, meanwhile, also have funded rental assistance.
Project BRAVO has reported that 36.8 percent of Texas households could face eviction or foreclosure within two months, despite the Centers for Disease Control’s order halting evictions based on non-payment of rent.
The CDC order has slowed things down, but we have also heard of a rise in evictions based on reasons other than nonpayment of rent, usually facilitated by the fine print of a lease executed months or years earlier. The spirit underlying such evictions goes against the collective pursuit of the common good we need to remain resilient, especially with millions of dollars in rental assistance available through local government and organizations like Project BRAVO.
The Texas Supreme Court had a moratorium earlier this year, which has long since expired. Justices of the peace in some areas have taken steps to delay or postpone eviction hearings, but when the CDC moratorium expires on Dec. 31, very little will stand between struggling families and loss of home.
Unless landlords can get paid, struggling people are eventually going to find themselves facing an eviction, and with it, their ability to help keep our community safe by sheltering in place and avoiding congregate settings. As we try to get this October surge under control, the thought of a large segment of the population becoming homeless in early January, during winter and in the midst of flu season, should motivate us to be very proactive.
Our community has already begun to see increased homelessness. The Delta Welcome Center reported that 41 households sought emergency shelter because of an eviction since they began tracking that metric a couple of months ago. We cannot allow that figure to increase.
Near the end of September, the Texas Supreme Court created a new program called the Texas Eviction Diversion Program, and El Paso was selected as a pilot program site. Project BRAVO administers the program, bolstered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ $600,000 investment to help keep El Paso families in their homes.
This pilot program will develop best practices to illuminate a larger investment of $163 million in federal funds that will be deployed throughout Texas’ 254 counties. Through TEDP, eligible families could be in line to receive up to six months of rental assistance dating back to April of 2020, though counterintuitively, a court referral is required to tap into TEDP funds.
However, no court referral is need for Project BRAVO program, which provides three months of rental assistance. It’s the same for the county’s program.
The nonprofit and governmental sectors have provided options for landlords and tenants. What our community needs now is landlords and tenants to collaborate, helping to prevent an eviction tsunami here and to contain COVID-19.
If you are a struggling tenant, talk to your landlord about options. Don’t wait.
David C. Stout has represented Precinct 2 on El Paso County Commissioners Court since 2015. He also serves on Project BRAVO’s board of directors.