Texas eviction crisis update
By John Henneberger
February 23, 2022
0:00 / 12:09
John Henneberger00:01

I'm John Henneberger at Texas Housers and talking to Ben Martin, senior researcher at Texas housers. Ben you're in charge of keeping up on everything about evictions in Texas, with your new eviction tracker that's on our website. What's happening with evictions.

Ben Martin00:20

Yeah, that's right. So we launched a eviction tracking dashboard on the Texas hazards website in January of 2022.

So a month ago we just did the latest update on eviction numbers for the state of Texas. The top line number is that there were. 14,582 new eviction cases filed in Texas in December, 2021 December, 2021 is the most recent month that we have state level case data.

John Henneberger00:54

Everybody's concerned about the effect of COVID on causing people to get behind on the rent and get evicted. How is it looking compared to how things looked pre pandemic?

Ben Martin01:08

These numbers are still low compared to pre pandemic, but we can kind of look at available funding for rent relief and the existence of eviction moratorium before they went away.

We can see relationships in the trends of eviction numbers of the state and these protections, these tenant protections. So for instance, when the Supreme court U.S. Supreme court struck down the national eviction moratorium we see a large jump, several thousand new eviction cases filed the next month in September.

We've been on a trend upward after that jump since then there is still rent relief available in Texas. So it's not surprising to us that we are not seeing eviction numbers that are as high. As of December as they were before the pandemic, when there was relatively little or no rent relief money available in the state that money is drying up though we know. And so over the course of the next three to six months, the vast majority of that money is going to be gone. The trend line is going to. That they will be a pre pandemic levels in most of Texas' metro areas by late spring, early summer, eviction lab tracks just a couple of counties in Texas.

Our eviction tracker is for the entire state, but for four counties in Texas eviction lab tracks up to last week. And so looking at that more recent data for Harris county, where Houston is Harris county eviction numbers have been above pre pandemic level since January. So throughout 2022, we've had Harris county eviction numbers at 20%, 30% over pre pandemic levels.

Local reporting has lines out the door and local eviction courts. Rent relief is running out, protections are running out and we're seeing these numbers rise.

John Henneberger03:08

I guess it's a little early to see the full effect of the ending of the emergency rent assistance on the numbers of evictions, but we are tracking the data on the emergency rent assistance money are we not?

Ben Martin03:29

Yeah, that's right. So we have a second tracker on the website that looks at the state program and the 36 local programs that have been distributing, emergency rental assistance. Many of those programs have already spent out their money and have no more left. Some of them are attempting to get reallocated money from the U S Treasury. There are a handful of jurisdictions that still have money left and have done a poor job of getting that money out into the hands of low income renters and landlords. And we are currently pushing for those jurisdictions to voluntarily reallocate that money to the state Texas rent relief program so that it can stay in the state and get into the hands of low-income renters who need it.

John Henneberger04:18

Roughly how much money is in danger because some of the local governmental entities that have rent assistance money, haven't spent it yet

Ben Martin04:30

It's over a hundred million dollars is that risk of being recaptured by the Treasury. And then when it's recaptured by the Treasury, we don't really have any control within the state about whether it's given back to the state of Texas or goes somewhere else and it doesn't serve Texans who need it.

Let me dive into these eviction numbers. I'm about three quarters of the new eviction cases. 77% occurred in ten counties out of Texas' over 250 counties. Harris county alone makes up 27% of the new eviction cases in the state.

So a quarter of eviction cases are happening in Harris county. When we look at case rates, which is the number of evictions as a share of total renter households in a county we see a few counties standout, El Paso county, one out of every hundred and 35 renter households in El Paso county received a new eviction notice.

John Henneberger05:34

And that is that in a month or...

Ben Martin05:37

...in one month. In the month of December? Yeah. Galveston county is not far behind one out of every 156 renters households. So these are counties that have a relatively high number of renter households and are also seeing a large amount of evictions as a share of their renter population.

John Henneberger06:00

And we should be clear these, these are eviction filings, right? We don't do we know the ultimate disposition of all of these cases.

Ben Martin06:08

The outcomes are a little difficult to track in the way that the court currently tracks data. They look at. court outcomes. We're looking at things like default judgment or agreed judgment, and we have those numbers. An agreed judgment, for instance, it's difficult to know whether that's agreed and the tenants stayed in their home or agreed and the tenant, left the home.

And a lot of these case outcomes don't actually tell us whether someone ended up losing their home or not. But we can assume with default judgments where the tenant failed to appear in court that these are a default for the plaintiff, for the landlord. And we saw in December almost 40,000 default judgments.

It's about a quarter of the total judgments. And the total judgements were just a few thousand below the total new cases filed. We know that at least a quarter of those and likely many more are resulting in a tenant being evicted.

Our goal with this dashboard is to try to gather as much information about what's going on with evictions in the entire state of Texas.

We know that there's other partners like Eviction Lab, January Advisors, the Child Poverty Action Lab in north Texas who are tracking evictions in particular counties already. And what we wanted to do is we wanted to spread that and try to get as comprehensive as possible, a look at what's going on in evictions, in the entire state.

We're using data that's reported by local justice of the peace courts to the state office of court administration. They're required to do that by law. One problem with this though, is that a pretty significant number of courts are not reporting their data to the state month after month. So we saw for the month of December out of just over 800 total courts in the state, 148 failed to report any data to the OCA.

If we're looking at counties that have a high number of renter households, no courts in Hidalgo county which has 76,000 renter households or Lubbock county that has 51,000 renter households, no courts in those counties reported any data,

This is the problem, the OCA, the office of court administration has tried but the courts just aren't following their legal responsibility to do so. We just don't know what's going on and had all go county or Lubbock county. So the number that I reported for the total number of cases in the state, we suspect that that number is actually higher than than what I reported

John Henneberger08:51

let me ask you another question. We've seen a whole lot of news stories in the last two or three weeks about rapidly increasing rents. Are we thinking about doing any tracking about rants? Because if the, if the rents are really going up at unprecedented rates, which some news reports say is the case, that's going to have an effect on the number of people who end up in eviction court right?

Ben Martin09:18

Absolutely. We already saw that there were many, many low-income Texans who were facing challenges, paying rent. Ultimately many of them still facing an eviction even when there were protections available we still see this rising number of evictions going into court, even when there's still rent relief available.

And as we said, the moratorium has ended rent relief is ending or ended in many places in Texas. And at the same time, we're seeing this historic increase in rents. So we absolutely suspect that this is going to lead to a compounding problem and a real eviction crisis in the state.

John Henneberger10:04

So we're ringing the alarm bells. What do we tell people needs to be done to address this problem?

Ben Martin10:12

We need to work together: community advocates. Texas courts, local governments, county governments, the state government, the federal government to reform JP court to provide eviction diversion, legal representation for tenants to make evictions rare and fair.

And also to fund rent relief and eviction diversion programs, mediation programs to all contribute to keeping people housed and reducing drastically the number of evictions in the state of Texas.

John Henneberger10:47

Our colleague Tori in Houston] is working on our CourtWatch project, where she and other volunteers from across the state are watching what's happening in eviction court in order to try to identify some reforms or practices, the justices of the peace could implement, which would reduce the number of people who are unnecessarily evicted from their homes and our colleague in Austin, our advocacy director is pushing the state of Texas and, and Governor Abbott to consider directing some of the coronavirus relief funds toward replenishing the money that's run out in the emergency rent assistance program. It's pretty clear that era, emergency rent assistance program is what kept a whole lot of people out of eviction court. As you say, as these numbers go up on the Texas housers eviction tracker that seems to be strongly related to the fact that rent relief is getting exhausted.

Ben Martin11:54

That's right. It'll make you pull your hair out that there's $3 billion sitting here in Austin with the state that could be used today to replenish Texas rent relief.