During the height of the coronavirus — as the White House and federal agencies enacted an eviction moratorium to slow spread of the infectious virus — Dallas enforced its own COVID-related eviction ordinance.
The act “gives residential tenants time to make arrangements for the payment of rent because of the loss of wages or medical expenses due to COVID-19,” the City of Dallas noted.
City leaders wrote it so that it would expire upon the termination of Texas’ COVID-related state of disaster proclamation.
However, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has continued each month to renew the COVID-19 disaster declaration. Abbott renewed it on September 22, just a few days after President Joe Biden said the pandemic is over. It should be noted that Biden’s health officials reportedly disagree.
The national halt on evictions ended almost a year ago with a Supreme Court decision last November.
The Advocate last fall did some reporting on evictions and rental assistance At the time city officials were busy distributing federal funds for housing relief through the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act. There was enough money then that everyone who qualified and tried even a little was getting assistance, we reported. According to DHA Solutions (formerly Dallas Housing Authority) one of the main entities to allocate funds for Dallas, there are no more federal rent relief funds available.
The State of Texas has distributed nearly all of its rent relief funds, as of this month, it says via public notice. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) administered the program in our state.
East Dallas lawyer Mark Melton, who started a pro bono advocacy center to help tenants, said the pandemic did not cause the affordable housing and eviction crisis in Dallas but it did open his eyes to injustices within the Justice of the Peace courts, where decisions about evictions are made.
“While laws exist to protect people, evictions rarely happen in accordance with the law, because the tenants don’t know any better themselves,” he said.
Advocates such as Melton and his team, and tools like our eviction moratorium, helped to buy many vulnerable people time to access rental assistance.
But tenants were not the only ones suffering COVID related financial woes— many landlords struggled due to the sanctioned nonpayment of rent. And the good property owners and managers were out there helping tenants to secure assistance (of course it was in their best interest to do so).
Dawn Waye told us she and her staff knocked on doors, called, printed fliers and “made sure our staff was treating people compassionately, because we know fear can keep a person from coming in and asking for help.”
Property owners need to fund payrolls, pay taxes, mortgages and maintenance — that money comes from people paying rent, she explained.
Kelly Davis, a property manager with Uptown Leasing and Property Management tells us the job of property manager involves helping owners realize their investments, and the eviction ordinance is unfair to those who put up that investment.
“The owners pony up an investment and tenants agree to pay rent. When a tenant doesn’t honor their agreement with the owner, the ordinance allows tenants to reside an additional three weeks for free,” Davis says. “There is nothing that can occur in three weeks that couldn’t be done in one week. And there is NO rental assistance program that assists within three weeks. Right now, those programs are running eight weeks, minimum, before any funds get to the owner.”
And, as mentioned above, Dallas and Texas is out of those funds for the time being.
“This phenomenon is across the board and not in any one particular segment of the rental spectrum,” Davis adds.
Davis wants to know how much rent assistance the federal government sent to Texas (about $2 billion including funds for utility bill assistance), and how much has been given out (all of it).
“And how much has evaporated as different agencies get ahold of the funds?” wonders the property manager.
We know DHA helped administer funds for Dallas. Also, nonprofits including United Way, Refugee services of Texas and Human Rights Initiative were chosen by the City of Dallas to distribute the funds.
Dallas received $40 million in one round, and $52 million in the second of federal funding. Some 12,000 Dallas residents have received help — “The program paid about $5,500 on average per household with the first round, and so far is paying an average of $5,600 per household in the second round, per D.
According to the wording of the ordinance, Dallas’ eviction moratorium could also end if Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson terminated the city’s state of disaster declaration.
The Eviction Lab tracks evictions in Dallas. In September filings were up about 10% from average, pre-pandemic numbers. The Brooklyn apartments in Lake Highlands remain the No. 1 evictor in Dallas County.
We will continue to bring you updates as we learn more.