Two Harris County courts have recently received grants to establish full-time eviction diversion efforts later this year. For some, this may not sound like a big deal. But for many, these diversion efforts could mean the difference between remaining housed or being a member of the newly homeless.
Thanks to the National Center for State Courts, Judge Steve Duble, Harris County Justice of the Peace for precinct 1-place 2, and Judge Dolores Lozano, Harris County Justice of the Peace for precinct 2-place 2, were awarded funds that will cover one-and-a-half years of salary for two full-time positions — one for each court — that will focus on collecting data and implementing strategies aimed at reducing the harm of eviction, according to Duble.
“We want to build on the lessons we learned during the pandemic and adopt best practices from that,” Duble said. “We have to work with and engage landlords and tenants and all the various groups that are involved in the eviction process.”
The negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to medical professionals, have yet to be fully calculated or comprehended. But what is certain is the positive to emerge during that horrendous global health event – pandemic protections for renters, allowing individuals and families to remain housed during difficult financial times.
These protections were an absolute God-send for many in Houston, the city ranked eighth in the nation in terms of numbers of long-term renters as calculated by ipx1031.com’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau housing data of more than 300 cities.
However, since those renter pandemic protections ended eviction rates in Houston have skyrocketed. According to data compiled by researchers at Eviction Lab, the Houston metro area has seen 42% more eviction filings in the last year than a typical year before the pandemic. Since January 2020, nearly 203,000 eviction cases have been filed in Harris County, according to data from January Advisors. So far, in 2023 alone, nearly 54,000 cases have been filed.
These numbers represent a historic high for the city. But the numbers also represent people on the razor’s edge of being housed or not.
Duble and Lozano’s courts will join 22 state and local municipalities across the country to join NCSC’s four-year Eviction Diversion Initiative: a $11.5 million grant program that aims to provide “an opportunity to learn from and improve upon pandemic-era best practices and to create permanent changes to their high-volume, high-impact eviction dockets,” according to the organization’s website.