After the end of local and federal protections against evictions, the number of filings is on the rise. (Courtesy of Adobe Stock)

After evictions in Travis County dropped to historic lows due to increased government protections during COVID-19, a gradual return to normal also led to a new spike in cases as the region d ‘Austin remains in what some are calling a housing crisis.

For much of the past two years, Travis County, Austin, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted their response to evictions, nearly halting tenant moves. In March, Travis County’s last eviction protections ended as the number of depots in the mostly tenant town hit pre-pandemic levels.

The county saw about 800 eviction cases filed each month before the pandemic, many of which were related to rising local housing costs, according to Department of Health and Human Services officials. While local and federal eviction moratoriums have suppressed the number, the underlying housing issues have been further exacerbated by the tax hardships of many residents who have lost income or faced other economic and medical events. during the pandemic.

Some local officials and advocates are working to ensure that the reduction in protections does not result in lasting fallout for tenants.

“It looks like the evictions are going to skyrocket and continue to increase, and that will only further jeopardize our local economy and our community,” said Travis County Health and Human Services Manager Pilar Sanchez.

Deposit trend up

Between March and April 2020, eviction requests in Travis County dropped 96% as local orders to delay evictions went into effect, according to data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. .

The county of nearly 1.3 million people has historically seen more than 100 eviction cases filed each week, numbers that have dropped to around several dozen. In late 2021, those numbers began to gradually increase as the CDC’s nationwide eviction ban expired, according to data from the Eviction Lab.

At least 2,300 deportation requests were registered in total from April 2020 to December 2021, an average of just over 110 per month. However, 2,517 deposits have been tracked so far in 2022, more than 50% of Travis County’s pandemic-era total in just three months.

The number of filings rose from 464 in January to 1,060 in March.

“We are almost where we were before the pandemic, but instead we are reeling from soaring rent prices and people who can barely recover [from the pandemic]said Mincho Jacob, communications coordinator for tenant support organization Building and Strengthening Tenant Action, or BASTA.

At the same time, local assistance programs that have seen high demand in recent months are drying up. Travis County closed its rental assistance program in March, just a week after it reopened, due to demand.

“What we’re seeing is an accessibility crisis that’s only been made worse by the pandemic,” Sanchez said. “…Rental prices here in Austin have gone up dramatically, and people just can’t afford to pay their rent.” According to data from real estate brokerage Redfin, the average monthly rent in Austin has jumped more than 40% in the past year alone.

While much of the spotlight on the eviction front is on renters, landlords, especially those of smaller properties, have also been burdened with recent trends.

Emily Blair, executive vice president of the Austin Apartment Association, said direct assistance has proven to be the “best fit” in the industry by allowing money to flow between tenants and landlords. But blockages in eviction proceedings have also left some without their usual source of income.

Rental housing providers have to recoup some of these losses at some point, and a good portion of rental housing rates are definitely impacted by the rental housing losses we’ve had over the past two years,” said Metric Property Management President Lyndsay Hanes.

Days in court

In Texas, eviction policy has always been seen as landlord-oriented, although recent changes may have lasting effects on this balance.

After receiving notice to vacate, for reasons ranging from non-payment of rent to lease violations, tenants in Texas have three days to move out, or legal action for eviction can be filed. Court proceedings could then take several weeks to resolve and, before 2020, usually resulted in an eviction.

Nick Chu, Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5 in Central Travis County, said about 95% of the eviction cases he hears involve late payment of rent.

While it’s a legal breach of lease, Jacob said, violating a one- or two-month payment deadline doesn’t equate to the long-term consequences of evictions. Such procedures can show up on credit-control officers, harming tenants’ future housing prospects.

Chu said policies such as eviction moratoriums have allowed more focus on housing cases that previously attracted little attention while remaining within the bounds of the law.

“The judiciary didn’t want to be the reason why the pandemic was worse, either economically or because of the spread of the virus,” he said. as high as the conservative Supreme Court of Texas. In response to the end of tenant protections, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht called in January for a more proactive judicial approach to evictions that considers tenant support and diversion programs rather than simply wiping out a daily log.

Chu said that attitude is one he thinks will stay in place at least in Travis County, regardless of the increase in the number of cases.

“In the past, I think the judiciary only heard these cases, and we treated them like any other case. … Now it’s pretty clear that the role of the judiciary is to try to prevent unnecessary evictions,” he said.

Keeping up with business

Chu and Jacob also stressed the importance of legal aid in eviction cases, regardless of ability to pay.

Travis County has launched a pilot program connecting pro bono attorneys with eviction defendants, and organizations such as Texas RioGrande Legal Aid are available to help tenants get represented in court.

Chu also said Travis County was a prime example of that attitude in Texas. The region has had fewer than 5,000 deposits since the start of the pandemic, well below the 46,068 deposits in Dallas County or the 79,631 deposits in the Houston area during the same period, according to the eviction lab and county data. For those seeking financial assistance, the options are now more limited. But despite Travis County’s last $9.2 million rental program closing within the week of a planned six-month run, Sanchez said about $1 million more could go to the county this year. .

She said the pandemic has fostered a better relationship between some landlords and the local government. However, she said, some for property management, local housing pressures will continue to increase tenant moves.

“Some landlords who just have a really good heart and help their tenants catch up, and then we see some who take advantage of the demand in the market and look for tenants who can pay more rent,” Sanchez said. Blair also cited “proactive” communication between tenants and landlords of all sizes as one of the bright spots to emerge from two difficult years.

However, some negative effects on smaller members of the multifamily industry continue to persist despite the “unprecedented” demand for rentals in Central Texas.

“We have a lot of what we call independent rental landlords who may have a single family home or small residential properties…who are outright exiting the market and exiting the industry,” Blair said.

Regardless of legal or financial options, eviction cases are again being filed at the rate of hundreds a week, and rental prices around Austin aren’t expected to drop anytime soon. The data also shows that evictions continue to affect areas with more minority residents at a higher rate, accelerating displacement in many areas, especially in the east, which have already been feeling the effects for years.

“We are massively evicting blacks and browns,” Jacob said. “It’s just a fact; it’s just a reality that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. And who is moving in, and what will that mean in the city 20 years from now? »