Housing

Dallas Launches Eviction Assistance Initiative

Mark Melton, the local attorney who drafted Dallas' COVID-19 eviction ordinance, said thousands of evictions are inevitable and the city is preparing for them.
Mark Melton, the local attorney who drafted Dallas' COVID-19 eviction ordinance, said thousands of evictions are inevitable and the city is preparing for them. zimmytws
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put a temporary halt to evictions during the pandemic. Local attorney Mark Melton, whose group Dallas Evictions 2020 has been sticking up for the city’s tenants during the pandemic, said the CDC’s moratorium is the only thing saving many from homelessness.

He expects to see tens of thousands of evictions when the CDC’s moratorium expires. With that unfortunate but likely event set for the end of next month, the city is preparing for a surge in the number of people who might be in need.

Dallas’ Office of Equity and Inclusion is partnering with a nonprofit to provide help for people facing eviction, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, which gives free civil assistance to low-income residents in over a hundred North and West Texas counties.

The initiative will give Legal Aid the funds it needs to provide full legal representation, outreach and community education and referrals to partner agencies.

“We share the community concern about evictions when the moratoria are scheduled to end in December,” chief of equity and inclusion Liz Cedillo-Pereira said in a press release. “We look forward to collaborating with community partners to ensure Dallas residents in need of assistance are served to the best of our abilities.”

Melton said the initiative is the result of an RFP the city sent out to give funds to an organization to help with eviction assistance. He said he was asked where Dallas Evictions 2020 wanted to apply for some of the funding, but since his staff is made up of volunteers, he recommended that Legal Aid apply for it instead.

“Together we’ll address the eviction crisis with the goal of keeping families housed and educating tenants and landlords on their rights and responsibilities," Maria Thomas-Jones, Legal Aid executive officer, said in a press release.

Melton said that educating people on their rights and the legal process is a big part of fighting evictions. He said eight out of ten people who reach out to his group don’t know about available rent assistance programs or anything about the CDC declaration, which can stop an eviction in some cases.

For Dallas residents to qualify for assistance, they must have been negatively affected by the pandemic and their household income can’t be more than 200% of the federal poverty level standards.

Starting Nov. 30, eligible Dallasites can apply by calling the Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas hotline at 1-888-529-5277 or going to their website, lanwt.org.

A COVID-19 eviction ordinance in Dallas, drafted by Melton, will remain in affect as long as there is a statewide or citywide disaster declaration. The ordinance gives Dallas residents 60 days to prove their finances have been harmed by the virus and come up with some money, but it doesn't apply to the rest of the county. 
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn