As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, thousands in Fort Bend County have faced financial crises. Now some may be in danger of being evicted from their homes.
However, the county’s top elected official is trying to delay the process and help residents get back on their feet.
Last Tuesday, May 19, the Texas Supreme Court allowed the statewide eviction moratorium to expire after temporarily putting eviction notices on hold during the coronavirus pandemic. According to a report from the Texas Tribune, eviction hearings could begin on May 19, while eviction orders could legally be served beginning this past Tuesday.
On the heels of the expiration, Fort Bend County Judge KP George sent a letter to the county’s justices of the peace “imploring” them to extend the local eviction moratorium in all four precincts.
“The Texas Supreme Court’s order lifting the statewide eviction moratorium states that ‘eviction proceedings may resume,’ not that they ‘shall resume,’ ” George wrote in his letter. “This language provides discretion to local jurisdictions to take action to safely and mercifully administer their courts.”
A provision in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic Security (CARES) Act allows a federal moratorium on evictions to continue through July 25 for properties that have federally backed mortgages. In his letter, George called for the county’s help in extending its own moratorium to match the federal provision.
Part of George’s reasoning is the large-scale unemployment that has gripped not just Fort Bend County but Texans as a whole. According to data from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), more than 2.2 million Texans have filed for unemployment since Feb. 22.
The TWC also indicated that as of May 9, nearly 47,000 claims for unemployment had been filed in Fort Bend County since March 1 – the fifth-most among any county in Texas.
“Those weeks without income of any kind are leaving many vulnerable Texans staring into a financial abyss,” George wrote in the letter. “The people most likely to lose their jobs due to the pandemic are also the most likely to have lower incomes in a regular economic climate.”
Judge Joel C. Clouser, Justice of the Peace for Precinct 2, confirmed the justices received George’s letter last week and passed it along to county attorney Roy Cordes’ office for advisement on how to proceed. He did not disclose whether he supported or opposed the idea.
Cordes said Friday that he received notification of the letter, but had not had the opportunity to examine what stance the county justices might take in extending the moratorium.
“We want to make sure we do everything legally,” Clouser said Friday.
The county recently set aside $19.5 million of CARES Act allocations to help with rental assistance. But George said it’s going to take more than that to make a dent and help the people of Fort Bend County get back on their feet.
“In Fort Bend County, we are striving to educate landlords and tenants, provide rental and basic needs assistance, and pass local protections where we can,” George wrote to the justices. “But this patchwork of relief will be incomplete without your support.”