Mayor Turner, Housing Task Force debate best ways to stop evictions

The Houston and Harris County Housing Stability Task Force is now at work to try to stem the tide of evictions. But community leaders are at odds about the best ways to accomplish it.

Many community leaders and task force members agree more rental assistance is needed. But there's also debate about other ideas on the table.

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After their first meeting, the Housing Stability Task Force suggested an ordinance to give renters a grace period to pay the rent.

"We put forth an idea of a 21-day period, and then if the resident was able to produce some evidence that they were affected by COVID-19, lost income in some way, that could turn potentially into a 60-day time period," explained task force member and Houston Apartment Association President John Boriack.

But some question whether another moratorium is the answer, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

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"You don't want people to get into a hole even deeper, such that people are owing even more, and have a more difficult time.  What people need first and foremost, they need this virus taken under control," said Turner at a press conference.

Instead, many leaders, including Turner, Boriack and Houston County Recovery Czar Armando Walle, agree more rental assistance is needed.

Walle says they're urging Congress to include assistance in the stimulus bill currently being debated.

"In those negotiations, we want to make sure rental assistance is at the top of the list in helping people, and mortgage assistance," said Walle.

Boriack would like for the City and County to provide more rental assistance, as well.

"Between the County and City they have hundreds of millions of dollars of CARES money still kind of sloshing around," said Boriack.

Harris County Commissioners just voted this week to boost rental assistance to $25 million, plus provide $750,000 for attorneys to represent tenants in eviction hearings.

"We would work with our local law schools that do a lot of public interest work with our agencies, such as Lone Star Legal Aid. They do a lot of good work in representing low-income clients," said Walle.

But Boriack disagrees, saying, "I feel like that's just a bad use of our energy and our resources because there's no ambiguity in our property code.  If a resident doesn't pay rent on the first like they're supposed to, the housing provider is entitled to possession of that unit."

Mayor Turner said he'll announce a new plan to prevent evictions on Friday.