Harris County Commissioners approve $4 million to provide legal services to tenants facing eviction

Harris County commissioners voted 3-0 to approve $4 million in federal funding under the U.S. Bailout Act to provide tenants facing eviction with legal services at their meeting on 27 september.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle were not present for the vote.

The $4 million will be split into $2 million in funding in 2023 and $2 million in 2024, and applicants will be able to apply for funding for an initial two-year period, according to agenda documentation.

The funding will augment the county’s $1 million housing and legal services initiative, which was approved by commissioners in August 2021 in anticipation of increased evictions after the eviction moratorium ends. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Speakers at the Sept. 27 meeting supported funding the eviction defense, but urged the county to go further.

“$4 million is not enough to cover all of Harris County, not even for a year,” said Julia Orduña, Southeast Texas regional director for Texas Housers, a family advocacy nonprofit. low income. “It’s the tip of the iceberg and a step in the right direction but leaves many tenants without access.”

“Eviction epidemic”

The initial $1 million program was administered by Lone Star Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm providing free legal services. Dana Karni, Director of Litigation for Right to Counsel Eviction at Lone Star Legal Aid, said Community impact that Harris County has been grappling with an eviction epidemic since before the impacts of COVID-19.

A dashboard from scientific data advisory firm January Advisors showed that 60,389 eviction cases were filed in Harris County between Jan. 1 and Sept. 1. 30, totaling more than $151.4 million in claims. Defendants were assisted by lawyers in only 1.65% of these cases.

Adrienne Holloway, executive director of the Harris County Department of Community Services, said Community impact the limited legal representation reflects the idea that tenants facing eviction are unlikely to have the resources to pay for a lawyer.

“It’s probably very expensive to find the appropriate representation,” Holloway said. “What we provide for free is an indispensable resource for people who find themselves strapped for cash.”

With this new round of funding, Holloway said his department is looking to target tenants who earn 65% of the area’s median income level or less to provide free legal services. She added that the program has broader implications than preventing homelessness.

“We can prevent someone from losing their home, but [the program] Let’s also hope they don’t fall too badly into bad credit, which can hurt them in other opportunities to find housing. … We know how hard it can be to repair credit,” Holloway said.

And with two successive years of $2 million, Karni said the funding will make the program more sustainable, holding “rogue landlords” more often and contributing to a better understanding of tenant protections.

“We’re starting to see buy-in from other stakeholders,” Karni said. “The more we are able to be in court and represent tenants who are being evicted, particularly for non-payment of rent, … the more likely there is to be an education process for the whole community. ”

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