As housing protections expire, Travis County sees spike in evictions

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022 by Seth Smalley

Travis County is experiencing a wave, not a tsunami of evictions, according to Precinct 5 Judge Nick Chu.

A more substantial increase in evictions had been predicted as federal and local protections against evictions dissipated. But last Tuesday, the judge told Travis County Commissioners Court that was just a bump – a 7% increase from pre-pandemic March numbers.

“As a state, we’ve seen an increase in evictions,” Chu said. “However, the Office of Courts Administration, the Texas Courts of Justice, and all of the housing officials predicted a tsunami of evictions…and it didn’t quite materialize.”

Harris County recorded 1,200 eviction applications; Dallas and Tarrant counties each saw more than 700. Travis County, however, had fewer.

“To give you perspective in Travis County, with our five justices of the peace, we had about 200, just over 200 eviction filings last week,” Chu said.

Ninety-five to 98 percent of eviction cases in Travis County have been caused by unpaid rent, and the majority of those have occurred in northwest Travis County.

“I think it’s more of an artifact of how the maps are drawn more than anything,” Chu told the curators.

Ward 2, the part of the county from which most evictions originate, is the largest part of the county, with the largest geographic area and the most apartment complexes.

“The most effective solution to prevent these cases from turning into evictions is, first, a strong rental assistance program that quickly pays rent to those who apply,” Chu said. “And then the second is the work of the level of representation of eviction case attorneys.”

Commissioner Brigid Shea asked about the county’s progress in providing attorneys to tenants facing evictions, listing it as a past Travis County priority.

“I know we’ve allocated additional funds for that, I think, up to $500,000,” Shea said. “But what I understood was that I think it was Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and maybe another entity said, we can’t handle this cash injection yet.”

Judge Chu confirmed that this was correct: the county is still placing dedicated attorneys in JP courts.

“What we’ve seen with these programs is that the money is starting to come in, but it takes time to recruit qualified people and train them.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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