June 11, 2020
County and city recovery leaders on Thursday announced the formation of a task force to prevent evictions while bridging gaps in housing stability that have been exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Housing Stability Task Force, which will include stakeholders with deep experience in the community who touch all points of the housing stability cycle, will align resources to address evictions while developing strategies and recommendations to strengthen the region’s housing delivery system. Although the city and county each have independent czars leading their respective COVID-19 recovery efforts, city and county leadership decided to unify their efforts to deal with the unprecedented housing crisis through the creation of a joint task force.
“Evictions were a serious issue before the COVID-19 pandemic, and they will continue to be of great concern throughout the course of the economic downtown. We unfortunately anticipate a substantial increase in the volume in the weeks and months ahead, and we are determined to make our best attempt at proactive planning to reduce as many as we can. The Houston region had systemic barriers to affordable housing before COVID, and the current crisis has exposed in plain sight the underlying system shortcomings,” said State Rep. Armando Walle, Harris County Recovery Czar. “With key players at the table, working together toward the same end goals, we will structure our efforts to be responsive to the immediate crisis, even as we maintain a firm resolve not to lose sight of the importance of future work required to make housing stability a reality for more people.”
Former Shell Oil Chairman and President Marvin Odum, who serves as City of Houston COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Czar, said, “The magnitude of the economic hardship resulting from the pandemic is still unfolding and disproportionately impacts the lower income households in our community. As an example, the City of Houston’s rental assistance program was fully subscribed after only 90 minutes of being made available. It is important that we pull together the relevant stakeholders to help identify near-term solutions while laying a foundation to address the longer-term, systemic need to build a resilient housing ecosystem. At the same time, we must also keep expectations realistic, as there are simply not enough financial resources nor a sufficient supply of affordable housing stock available to avoid an immense amount of pain and difficulty for individuals, families, neighborhoods, and the broader community.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the city and county were already experiencing a shortage of affordable rental housing and high eviction rates, particularly among low-income communities. The pandemic, compounded by a downturn in the energy industry, has intensified the rental housing crisis beyond just very low-income residents. It has also significantly impacted property owners, who face increased economic pressures due to the vast numbers of renters who have suffered loss of employment and income.
The task force will address three pressing needs:
On June 3, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called on the county’s Justices of the Peace to delay eviction proceedings until August 24, in line with the federal CARES Act timeline. A state eviction moratorium was lifted on May 19, and the protections offered by the CARES Act apply only to properties with federally backed mortgages.