New Texas rent assistance program is coming, but experts say the state needs to work out some kinks

Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 7:18 PM CST
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KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) - The Texas Eviction Diversion Program, which provides as much as six months of assistance to certain renters who have been hit hard by the pandemic, will roll out statewide in the spring.

The program is a partnership among the Supreme Court of Texas, the Texas Office of Court Administration and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

For now, it is only effective in 19 counties, including Harris, Bexar and El Paso.

However, some housing experts say, before the program becomes effective statewide, there are some kinks to work out.

Under the rules of the program, both the landlord and the tenant must opt in, and the landlord must waive late fees, penalties and court costs.

“The trick is that the landlord has to agree to be a part of the Eviction Diversion Program, so if the landlord does not agree to be a part of it, then the tenant is out of luck,” said Christina Rosales, deputy director of Texas Housers.

She said that is “one of the biggest pitfalls” of this program.

Sandy Rollins, the executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union, agreed and said she has already seen cases in which landlords indicated that they would rather not receive rent than opt into the program.

Additionally, to receive the rental assistance, renters must first be sued by their landlords.

“That’s really traumatic and scary for a tenant — number one,” Rosales said. “And number two is that you have to go through this court proceeding. Court proceedings are expensive to do. It’s really inefficient.”

Meanwhile, Rollins said that the “patchwork” of eviction protections at the state and federal level are a “good start,” but more needs to be done.

“The Texas Eviction Diversion program had $170 million allocated for rent assistance, but the need is in the billions — probably about $3 billion in the state of Texas or more,” Rollins said.

There is currently a federal ban on evictions, which was extended through the end of January by the most recent COVID-19 relief package.

That package also earmarked $25 billion in emergency rental assistance.

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