Constable offers free legal help as Houston has 2nd highest eviction cases in country

Families lined up for free legal help at the Precinct One Constable's Eviction Assistance Program in North Houston Friday.

The Princeton University Eviction Lab reports that Houston has the second-highest number of eviction cases filed in courts in the country this year. 14,300 have been filed since March 15.  This comes despite a state eviction moratorium earlier this year, followed by the CDC eviction moratorium filed in early September.

Attorneys tell us the CDC moratorium is helping to pause many eviction cases.  But they say it sometimes doesn't because some landlords or judges have interpreted it differently, or tenants haven't filed the proper paperwork.

"I'm a vendor with Hertz.  They left all vendors unpaid.  Basically, I just beat COVID. I was in the hospital for like three days," said Jalon Hicks while waiting in his car to speak with an attorney at the event.  "I'm only 23, so I'm trying to move forward in life. It's hard. I have two daughters."

Families arrived by the carload, many with notices in hand to vacate their homes.

"I have it here," Hicks showed us his notice to vacate.  "I don't want to be on the street.  It's hurtful. ... It's just very hurtful to see that at this time.  And they know what's going on.  They don't care.  No one really cares."

Application opens for $1,200 payment from Harris County COVID-19 relief fund

The Harris County COVID-19 Emergency Direct Assistance Fund will provide one-time payments of $1,200 to up to 33,000 families who have financial hardships related to COVID-19.

"It's tough because you know you're displacing someone the potentially could be out on the street," said Precinct One Constable Alan Rosen.

Having seen the pain caused by evictions first hand, Rosen used donations to offer tenants and landlords free legal help in the parking lot of the Harvest Time Church in Greenspoint, as eviction cases continue despite the CDC moratorium.

"We used to see for August, June, July, over 100 a month.  It's tapered down a bit.  But I don't want people sitting in their apartment saying, 'OK, the CDC has this moratorium and we don't have to worry about anything.  We're good.'  That's not true.  You have to meet the criteria of the CDC guidelines and you have to file the necessary paperwork," said Rosen.

"It's not enough. The CDC moratorium is a positive thing and we are seeing a lot of good results. At first, the judges were confused about it and they were often not handling things correctly. But now we're having a lot more success," said Eric Kwartler, Supervising Attorney with South Texas College of Law Houston, which was advising tenants and landlords of their rights.

The CDC moratorium required tenants to sign an affidavit that they meet its requirements, including that they've sought aid and have lost income due to COVID-19.  The Texas Supreme Court now requires a tenant to not only file the affidavit with their landlord, but with their local Justice of the Peace.

But when the moratorium expires January 1st, families will still owe months of back rent.

"I'm worried about my family, certainly.  I provide for them, so I'm just in a position of pivoting," said Hicks.

Today is the last day to apply for $1,200 in Harris County's Emergency Assistance through Catholic Charites.  BakerRipley says it is also still accepting applications for Harris County rental assistance.