A year after a GoFundMe account organized by the Harris County Constable Precinct One Foundation raised more than $250,000 in donations to help at-risk tenants, Constable Alan Rosen announced the funding will go toward eviction legal defense and helping tenants make rent payments.
With the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to end the national CDC eviction moratorium, many Houston-area evictions that have been on hold will now likely resume in the coming weeks.
Harris County’s eight constables and their offices play a key role in the process by carrying out the judges’ eviction orders and physically removing a tenant from a property. According to Rosen, his office served 70 evictions last month.
South Texas College of Law Houston, one of five legal aid provider organizations that make up the Harris County Eviction Defense Coalition, will receive funding from the Harris County Constable Precinct One Foundation.
“We relied on the incredible experts that are here today with me to tell us where there’s a void, where there’s a gap,” Rosen said.
Some of the money will be used in an innovative way to help remove a little-known barrier tenants face when they’re trying to prevent an eviction in court.
To get additional time to defend themselves or wait for rent relief to arrive, tenants appeal a judge’s eviction ruling after losing a trial in the justice of the peace court. But if they want to stay in their home during the appeals process, they have to pay one month’s rent to the court, according to attorney Eric Kwartler with South Texas College of Law Houston.
In many cases, tenants can’t afford to make that payment.
“This is a hole in our safety net, this amount that has to be paid,” Kwartler said. “We see clients all the time end up having to be served by the constable with the writ of possession because they can’t come up with this one month’s rent.”
Houston and Harris County’s rent relief program has distributed more than $180 million in aid to more than 48,000 families so far this year, reaching many people right on the brink of eviction.
During the pandemic, just under 4% of renters in Harris County eviction cases have had assistance from an attorney, according to the data firm January Advisors.
Dana Karni, managing attorney at Lone Star Legal Aid, said this new foundation funding will reach renters in dire need.
“We represent tenants. We see them facing homelessness,” Karni said. “We are dealing with people who are the most vulnerable in our communities.”