20K Pandemic Eviction Filings in Houston/Harris County
Recently, the pandemic eviction filings reached over 20K in the Houston/Harris County area, currently sitting at 22,847 cases filed per the data compiled by January Advisors.
This number of pandemic eviction filings is staggering and could have been curtailed with an eviction grace period that Mayor Sylvester Turner refused to enact back in August 2020 despite recommendations from the housing taskforce and the endorsement of the Houston Apartment Association, a landlord association.
The eviction process takes only three weeks from start to finish, and any person juggling multiple jobs can easily be caught off guard by it. There has been little to no action from elected officials representing Houston and the surrounding cities in Harris County. The rental assistance programs were essentially landlord bailouts and only met the materials needs of the people temporarily.
Local groups have organized to reduce shame and stigma around evictions and are organizing to build collective tenant power. These groups are the Houston Eviction Solidarity Network and the Houston Tenants Union organizing in the Houston/Harris County region.
Houston Eviction Solidarity Network
The Houston Eviction Solidarity Network (HESN) is a project of Texas Housers and was inspired by an in-person, pre-pandemic program that is supported by Building and Strengthening Tenant Action (BASTA) in Travis County.
HESN launched in October, recruiting and training volunteers to observe the courts via public access stream and to notate their findings. Harris County has 16 Justice of the Peace (JP) courts and not all of them are streaming online for transparency. Only a third of the courts are streaming which means HESN could only access one-third of the 3,000 eviction cases in December 2020. The courts with the higher rates are not currently streaming.
When HESN got all of their volunteers trained, they were able to submit over 275 observation logs for 244 unique case hearings in December 2020. Here are their findings:
- 44% of tenants did not show up to their hearing
- Over 60% of rulings for the plaintiff (landlord) were default judgements
- 30 tenants presented a CDC declaration at or prior to their hearing
- 20% of landlords rejected the Texas Eviction Diversion Program in court
- 7 tenants had a lawyer present
HESN also found that most of the time tenants didn’t know about any protections and the JPs were not helpful.
Through volunteer work, HESN continues to observe the eviction courts to gather data, create community accountability, educate the public, and humanize the complex systemic problems.
Houston Tenants Union
Why did they form pre-pandemic? Wages are just as stagnant now as it was before the pandemic. Rent is increasing just as rapidly as gentrification is wiping out Black and Brown neighborhoods. Take some time to go through Eviction Lab to see eviction numbers across the country since 2000. You will find the high eviction rates were already there, and it’s now being exacerbated by the pandemic.
Throughout 2020, the union organized campaigns to demand better living conditions and to retrieve stolen deposits from landlords. HTU also became formally affiliated with the Autonomous Tenants Union Network.
Currently, HTU is working on growing and building a strong Greenspoint local. A local is a neighborhood level of organizing. There are a couple of campaigns developing there now and they are holding weekly Greenspoint meetings.
With collective tenant power, HTU is actively working to ensure housing is a human right.
At the end of the day, the pandemic is highlighting systemic issues in our late-stage capitalist, fascist oligarchy. However, it is important to remember that people are organizing around community strength to hold these white supremacy institutions accountable while abolition of the landlord/tenant dynamic and the right to housing inevitably makes its way into discourse.