Delayed Rental Assistance Could Make Evictions in Dallas Much Worse

A single mom in Irving, Texas submitted a rent assistance application in July. Hearing nothing for months, she soon found an eviction notice on her door.
A single mom in Irving, Texas submitted a rent assistance application in July. Hearing nothing for months, she soon found an eviction notice on her door. Shutterstock
She didn't like it, but in July Melanie Green swallowed her pride and asked the government to help pay her rent.

“I’ve always been a Texan, never one to mooch off the system,” she said. “I’m a single parent, but if you were to check the state of Texas’ websites, you wouldn’t see me applying in the past for things I probably should’ve been applying for. Just because, you know, I’ve got a sense of pride.”

Since she was laid off from her job as a legal clerk at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in March 2020, Green has supported herself and her 9-year-old son Gabriel with the expanded federal state and federal unemployment benefits for those like her who had lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

As the quarantine groaned on, she kept applying to every job opening she saw herself fit to fill. But nothing panned out.

By the time late June arrived, Green was still in the job hunt. Then, on June 26, the Texas Workforce Commission ended the additional $300 weekly payments that had been tacked onto standard unemployment benefits in response to the pandemic.

Figuring that expanded federal unemployment benefits would end soon after, Green decided to go against her instincts and ask the state of Texas for help. On July 19, she submitted her application to the Texas Rent Relief Program, an initiative aimed at doling out around $1 billion in federal funds to cover rent for Texans who lost income or a job during the pandemic.

As instructed in the TRR's application, Green notified the managers at the Devon on Northgate Apartments in Irving that she’d applied and passed along her application’s reference number to them that same day.

Since rent relief payments are made directly to leasing agencies, not tenants, landlords have to complete a small part of the application as well. A month went by, then two, without any word from the building managers. Green stopped by the leasing office to follow up in-person more than once, growing more anxious with each passing day.

Then, after more than two months of silence from both TRR administrators and her landlords, she returned to her apartment last week to find an eviction notice taped to her front door.

Green isn’t the only Texan to find themselves embroiled in an eviction dispute while waiting months for landlords and state and local agencies to move their applications forward. Advocates say countless Texans across the state have been forced into eviction proceedings in recent months while waiting for communications from TRR administrators and their property managers about their applications.

“We’re getting to a point where it’s moving so slowly that landlords don’t want to wait anymore." - Mark Melton, attorney

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a nationwide ban on evictions in September 2020, but landlords continued to file eviction cases and Dallas eviction courts continued to pursue them anyway. In August, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a new CDC order extending the moratorium, a move that was celebrated by landlord associations around the country.

In a statement at the time, the National Apartment Association, a landlord advocacy group whose members control some 10 million units nationwide, insisted that the moratorium had been "unlawful" from the start.

"Though the moratorium is lifted, it is important to remember that billions in debt remain on renters’ records and housing providers’ shoulders — it’s past time to focus on the most sustainable path forward of full rental assistance funding and streamlined distribution," NAA CEO and President Bob Pinnegar said.

Mark Melton, a Dallas-based attorney who founded the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center, explained that the "bigger incentive not to evict has been the availability of rental assistance, not the moratorium."

Melton added, “Landlords acting in their own self-interest have been willing to be patient while tenants go through the application process, because they want to get paid."

But the application process has moved at a funeral's pace in recent months, a result of demand far outstripping the service capacity of the state and local agencies managing rent relief administration, Melton said. With the TRR program and its county and municipal offshoots increasingly overwhelmed, landlords are running out of patience.

“We’re getting to a point where it’s moving so slowly that landlords don’t want to wait anymore. They just don’t have confidence the payment’s ever going to come. So, they’re just like, ‘Lets try our luck with the next tenant’,” Melton said.

Application processing delays, as well landlords’ withering patience, come as more than 700,000 Texans report they are within a month of being unable to pay their rent. Meanwhile, TRR’s funds have dwindled from $1 billion to $217 million, enough to support monthly housing for about 5% of those households on the brink.

Green and her son remain among these precariously positioned households, though they’ve avoided eviction for now. Green’s landlords have backed off for the moment and are now working to complete their part of the application.

“My spirits are very low. Anxiety is up and depression is back, and I’m fighting them without medication and seem to be losing an uphill battle,” Green said. “I’m working on that, but first I must stop this eviction.”
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Michael Murney is a reporting fellow at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney