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With No More CARES Act Protections, North Texas Tenants Fear Evictions

Many North Texas tenants may soon face eviction now that the CARES Act has expired.
Many North Texas tenants may soon face eviction now that the CARES Act has expired.
Rental Realities

Soon, single mother Kimberly Brock will likely be evicted from her Denton home. A federal law that had shielded her from displacement expired on Saturday.

That same day, Brock, who has a 5-month-old daughter named Emery, said she received an eviction notice. She hasn't been able to afford her full rent since losing her job working for a family member and was unable to sign up for unemployment, she said.

"It is honestly the most disheartening feeling in the world," Brock said of facing eviction. "It’s both frustrating with the apartment complex and it’s frustrating with why the government is not helping us.”

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, tenants living in properties with federally backed mortgages were protected from eviction for 120 days after the date the law was enacted. That period ended Saturday. The act also requires landlords to give a 30-day notice to vacate, so the earliest they can file an eviction is Aug. 24.

Although the CARES Act bought certain tenants some time to come up with rent, many are still unable to pay. Now that the courts will again process eviction cases, tenants’ rights advocates warn of a surge in displacements.

Brock said her complex, Denton's 19Twenty Apartments, issued many of its renters notices to vacate in May, even though it’s a property covered by the CARES Act. According to a National Low Income Housing Coalition database, the complex has a mortgage from federal lender Fannie Mae.

When tenants mentioned that to 19Twenty’s management though, they didn’t seem to care, Brock said. She and dozens of neighbors were told that they'd still be evicted in June, she said.

That didn’t happen, Brock said. With the CARES Act protections lifted, however, Brock estimates that 50 of her neighbors may also face eviction.

“Right now, in the position that we’re all in, I feel like we should all have a little bit of kindness and humanity with each other,” Brock said. “And that’s definitely not what we’re getting from 19Twenty.”

Representatives from 19Twenty did not return a request for comment.

On top of the federal eviction moratorium, the additional $600 weekly unemployment aid provided by the CARES Act also ended Saturday.

Dallas County’s eviction moratorium is scheduled to lift on Aug. 5.

Dallas revamped its rental assistance program in June, but it was quickly overwhelmed, said Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union.

“The need is just huge,” Rollins said. “It’s a really terrifying landscape right now.”

Between 20 and 28 million Americans are likely to become displaced as a result of the coronavirus crisis, housing expert Emily Benfer told CNBC. That’s more than double the number of people who lost their homes during the 2008 foreclosure crisis, Benfer said.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act would have provided $200 billion in funding toward homeless and housing programs to help communities crushed by COVID-19. Although the HEROES Act was passed by the U.S. House, the Senate indicated in mid-July that it would not follow suit, according to Forbes.

Many people who are newly unemployed could have difficulty finding work, Rollins said. The jobs that are available may be considered high risk for exposure to the coronavirus.

“Many other jobs, they’re either not safe to work or they’re not there, period,” Rollins said. “It’s just a scary situation.”

SheQuice Roberts and her two teenage children may also soon be evicted from their home at 2704 CDMX Apartments in Dallas' Oak Cliff neighborhood. After the pandemic began, Roberts lost her job as a school bus driver for Arlington ISD, she said; she desperately wants to return to work.

Roberts said she was able to sign up for unemployment, but her benefits were docked $1,000 per pay period after her account with the Texas Workforce Commission was hacked. She’s tried to call the TWC to fix it, but can never get through its overwhelmed system, she said.

Now, Roberts is worried she won’t make August’s rent, she said. Although 2704 CDMX is backed by federal lender Fannie Mae, any protections the CARES Act would have afforded Roberts are now moot.

“If I lose my apartment, I have nowhere to go,” she said. “My kids do, but I don’t.”

Adding insult to injury, Roberts said her complex frequently neglects maintenance issues. Last week, she didn’t have any hot water to take showers, she said. Another time, management ignored her request to fix her air conditioning unit after it leaked water onto her hallway floor, she said.

“I’ve never been late [to pay rent], I don’t cause any issues, so why are they treating us like this?” Roberts said.

Representatives for 2704 CDMX did not return a request for comment.

Brock said that 19Twenty Apartments has also had its share of maintenance problems. Once, a child fell through unsecured flooring on a breezeway, she said. Some apartments were flooded by raw sewage in June, she added.

Property managements’ refusal to fix health hazards and other maintenance requests may sound like it could be used as a defense in eviction court. That’s not the case, though, said Farwah Raza, an attorney with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas.

Judges must base their ruling strictly on the law, she said, which often can be boiled down to a simple question: Did the tenant pay?

In addition, nonprofits are running out of funds to aid indigent tenants. Many Dallas agencies no longer have rental assistance available, said Dewey Marshall, coordinator at the North Texas Fair Housing Center.

“In Dallas, I literally don’t know anywhere that has funds right now for rent assistance,” he said. “It’s really scary.”

There is one safeguard still in place, however.

Dallas' COVID Notice of Possible Eviction ordinance helps eligible renters by offering them more time to make up rent. It gives them three weeks to prove the pandemic slashed their income and another 60 days to pay their balance. It's active as long as the state or city remains under a disaster declaration.

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Those who live in surrounding North Texas cities may not be offered such a payment plan, however. Even if Congress approves another sweeping act to aid the nation’s renters, Brock said she's worried relief will arrive too late.

“People should be thinking about staying home and keeping each other safe,” she said. “They should not be thinking about where they’re going to live tomorrow.”

Resources:

Texas Tenants' Union: 214-823-2733
Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas: 888-529-5277
Dallas Eviction 2020: 469-436-2704

United Way Dallas: 214-978-0000
Housing Crisis Center: 214-828-4244
Family Gateway: 214-823-4500
The Bridge: 214-670-1100
City Square: 214-823-8710
Dallas Life: 214-421-1380
SMU COVID-19 Legal Aid: 214-768-2683

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