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As housing protections expire, Travis County observes bump in evictions

Tuesday, April 12, 2022 by Seth Smalley

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

A more substantial increase in evictions had been forecast as federal and local eviction protections wore off. But last Tuesday, the judge told the Travis County Commissioners Court it was just a bump – a 7 percent increase compared to March pre-pandemic numbers.

“As a state, we have seen an increase in evictions,” Chu said. “However, the Office of Court Administration, the Justice Courts throughout Texas and all of the housing folks had predicted a tsunami of evictions … and it didn’t really come to fruition.”

Harris County saw 1,200 eviction filings; 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, a little bit more than 200 eviction filings last week,” Chu said.

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

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

Precinct 2, the part of the county most evictions are coming from, is the biggest part of the county, with the most geographic area and greatest number of apartment complexes.

“The most successful resolution at preventing those cases from becoming evictions are, number one, a robust rental assistance program that pays rent quickly for those who apply,” Chu said. “And then, the second is the work from the level of attorney representation of eviction cases.”

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

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

Judge Chu confirmed that was correct: The county is still in the ongoing process of placing dedicated attorneys at Justice of the Peace courts.

“What we saw with these programs is that the money is starting to become available, but it does take time to recruit qualified individuals and get them trained up.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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