Federal Relief Bill provides rental assistance, local officials say more help needed

Just after President Trump signed the new federal COVID Relief bill with help for renters, some state and Harris County leaders are calling on Governor Abbott to do more to stop evictions in this economic crisis.

The federal stimulus bill extends the CDC eviction moratorium through January and provides $25 billion in rental and utility assistance.  

But these local leaders say it still won't be enough to save the tens of thousands of Texans already losing their homes. 

"Despite my willingness to work, I've been evicted. I've been living in my car since February," said airport worker and SEIU member Mercedes Taylor at a press conference.

Stories of eviction are mounting from people like Taylor. 

"I worked a double on Christmas, I didn't complain.  Just left at 4 o'clock this morning, I'm here right now.  I'm not asking for sympathy. I just want you to understand I have no problem with working," Taylor explained. 

"I put up a family van, a customized family van for sale, and had numerous people calling.  And out of those numerous people, a lot of them said they needed a place to live," said Lacy Wolf, President of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation. 

"If you get evicted, the long term impact puts you so deep in a hole, it's insurmountable," said Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis.  

They're calling on Governor Abbott to impose a statewide eviction moratorium and to fund more legal aid attorneys to represent low-income renters in eviction cases.  

The $171 million Texas Eviction Diversion Program, which provides up to six months of rent if the landlord agrees not to evict the tenant for a time, was just extended to March 15.  But these local leaders say there's no public accounting of whether the program is working.  Judges and attorneys tell us that many landlords have declined to accept the terms, saying renters are too far behind in payments by the time they reach court. 

"Governor, I'll simply say, don't spit in our faces and tell us it's raining. To the best of our knowledge, the state program hasn't issued one dollar. And there's no way to prove otherwise, despite promising transparency," said Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

Under the new federally funded assistance, renters will soon be able to apply for up to 15 months of assistance.  The money will be paid directly to a landlord if the tenant has not been evicted.  

But some people who've already been evicted, such as Taylor, say the aid is coming late. 

"I am accustomed to working pretty hard. For me to get from where I've been to where I am, yes, it's pretty embarrassing," said Taylor.

We reached out to the Governor's office for a response, but have not heard back yet. 

Renters who have been unemployed for at least 90 days or have household income at or below 50% of the average median income will get priority for the federal rental assistance, according to a bill summary. 

Local leaders urge renters facing eviction to go to http://www.StopTXEviction.org or call (800) 733-8394 for more resources.