Local union calls on Houston to protect renters during COVID-19 crisis

Union leaders called on Houston City Council to do more to protect renters from being threatened with evictions during the economic crisis.

Renters say it keeps happening despite the Texas Supreme Court's freeze on eviction hearings until April 30th. They say landlords are still serving tenants who can't pay the rent with notices to vacate.
The freeze does not prohibit landlords from doing so.

"It's been hard to pay rent and everything, and they put a notice on my door," said Anthony Contreras with the International Association of Machinist Union.

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Renter Mel House showed us her notice to vacate, "It states we need to be out by April 13th."

Renters have also sent us emails saying landlords are threatening to lock them out and they're scared straight.

A group of union representatives, speaking for many of their out of work members, gathered in front of City Hall to say enough is enough.

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"We are calling today for the City to pass prohibitions on posting notices to vacate, and removal of tenant property. We want to see a grace period for tenants to pay overdue rent," said Hany Khalil with the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation.

They want city council to follow the lead of other cities, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Austin.

"Two weeks ago, the Mayor of Austin issued an order prohibiting issuing notices to vacate, removing tenant property or removing a tenant, Austin City Council gave tenants two months to pay late rent," said Khalil.

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Mayor Turner says he'd like the eviction pause extended and would rather see more of the federal disaster money put into rental assistance.

Said Turner, "I'm not asking for any additional dollars for the City of Houston, but give us the flexibility to fashion programs and strategies that will assist tenants, renters, employees, small businesses to help them get back on their feet."

The Union reps say renters need these protections.

"Landlords are still coming out and serving notices to vacate, they're still filing for evictions. They are still threatening to put people out on the streets," said Khalil.

In response to these proposals, Clay Hicks, President of the Houston Apartment Association, sent us the following statement,
"We appreciate all the different industry leaders coming together to ask for more rent relief tools, but the relief we need isn’t about delaying payment. Eviction delays were a good first step, but the next step is for the industry, policy makers and charities to focus on meaningful, immediate solutions to provide rent relief that helps people remain in their homes. That’s what our residents need us all to be focused on, on their behalf.

We don’t want to see our residents evicted two months from now, or ever. So, we call upon lawmakers to act now to provide additional relief and assistance to millions of renters and in turn millions of industry professionals on the front lines in apartment communities – at risk to their own well-being. While property owners are doing all they can to provide relief, they in no way are in a position to become the government’s public housing arm, so we must collaborate to provide meaningful relief now, not just delay the pain for all till later."

City Council Member at Large Sallie Alcorn sent the following statement:

"I have continued to express my advocacy for rent relief for the past three weeks, and have been outspoken at council meetings about what other major US and Texas cities are doing to support renters negatively affected by COVID19. Houstonians deserve support as well.

I am specifically interested in shifting the city’s existing HUD funding toward tenant-based rental assistance where the current need is great. I also think the City should make a strong plea to landlords asking them to work with tenants on payment plans, waive and reduce late fees, and use security deposits to help cover missed rents. If allowable by law, I am in favor of a city order for landlords to waive or reduce late fees during this time. I also would like to see the state and county extend the moratorium on hearing eviction cases.

Further, I applaud the Houston Apartment Association efforts to establish a COVID rent relief emergency fund with the Alliance of Community Assistance Ministries."