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Special Report: El Paso Eviction Analysis Report

On September 4, 2020, an eviction moratorium was declared nationally. It prohibited landlords from evicting tenants for not paying their rents. On July 31, 2021, the eviction moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is scheduled to end. In testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, House committee members were told that between 2000 and 2016, “more than 61 million evictions” were filed across the nation. The eviction filings in 2016, represented about “eight cases per 100 renter households in America.” [1]

That was before the 2020 pandemic that brought the American economy to a halt.

According to the National Council of State Housing Agencies, almost 16% of renter households in America who are behind on their rent payments feel “very likely” that they will lose their homes in the next two months. (June 21, 2021, data). Filtered for Hispanic households, the number of renters that expect to lose their homes remains at about 16%. However, when we add respondents that indicated they feel “somewhat likely” to lose their rental home in the coming months, the rate increased to 44%.

When the data is analyzed for Texas renters, the rate for renters who feel that they are “very likely” to lose their homes in the next two months rises to almost 28%. Texans who feel “somewhat likely” that they will lose their rental homes is at about 35%. When the data is filtered for Hispanic renters, the rate for possible evictions increases to 73.3% of renters in Texas who are behind in their rent payments.

A great majority of Hispanic Texans who are now behind on their rent fear losing their rental homes in the next two months, the data shows.

Although Princeton University’s Eviction Lab has been studying eviction rates across major cities for years, there is no known study looking at El Paso’s eviction rates. Because the eviction moratorium is about to end, the question becomes whether there is a looming housing crisis coming to El Paso?

Eviction Moratorium Is Ending

In Texas, the statewide eviction moratorium ended in May 2020. However, the CDC has a nationwide moratorium in place until July 31, 2021.

Although the moratorium is in place, tenants are still required to make monthly rent payments in Texas. Not paying rent can lead renters to being evicted from their rental housing. However, under the CDC guidelines, a tenant who swears that they cannot pay their rent due to a substantial loss of income resulting from a layoff or a cut in wages or hours, can seek an exception from an eviction. Tenants may also claim the lack of funds to pay rent because of extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Tenants seeking to avoid being evicted under the CDC moratorium must be making less than $99,000 annually for one person or $198,000 for those filing joint tax returns. The tenants must also attest that they have made efforts to pay rent to their landlord and have tried to receive government rent assistance. In addition, the tenants must state that they would likely become homeless, move into a shelter or “have to move in with others who live in close quarters,” if they were evicted.

El Paso Does Not Have A Moratorium In Place

On August 7, 2020, the Texas Attorney General issued a non-binding opinion stating that Texas local governments do not have the authority during a disaster to prohibit, delay, or restrict the issuance of a notice to vacate for an eviction.

El Paso does not have a local moratorium in place. However, the CDC moratorium imposes limits on who can be evicted until July 31. However, Austin and Travis counties have local moratoriums in place.

What Are Other Cities In Texas Doing?

Austin and Travis counties have a local ban in place for most commercial and residential evictions until at least August 1, 2021. The eviction moratorium does not apply to monthly rents over $2,475 unless the tenant files a CDC declaration. However, both counties have allowed evictions for tenants that owe more than five months of rent and are also unable to access rental assistance.

The Texas Eviction Diversion Program

On April 28, 2021, the Texas Supreme Court issued Emergency Order 37 renewing the Texas Eviction Diversion Program. The diversion program allows an eviction proceeding to be abated for 60 days upon the agreement of the landlord and the tenant. It also makes the court records confidential for those accepted into the program while the eviction is abated.

The goal of the Texas eviction diversion program is to allow the tenants and the landlords to come to an agreement on past due rental payments to help reduce the number of evictions. The program is intended to allow the parties to use federal funding and Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs funds to make rent payments.

Under the program, landlords must review information about the program on the Office of Court Administration website before filing an eviction case. When filing an eviction case, the landlord must confirm to the tenant that they reviewed the program information and include information about the program to the tenants in their eviction filing.

On the trial date, the judge must discuss the diversion program with the tenant and ask both the tenant and the landlord if they agree to participate in the program. If both agree, the eviction is abated for 60 days to allow the two parties to come to a resolution. At any time during the abatement period, a landlord can file a motion to reinstate the eviction case. At that point, the eviction trial must then be set within 21 days.

Are All Evictions Banned?

The latest iteration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction moratorium does not ban all evictions. The eviction moratorium bans landlords from evicting tenants for failing to pay rent provided that the tenant signs a CDC declaration, under penalty of perjury, attesting to meeting the CDC criteria of accessing rent assistance from government sources and of suffering a hardship due to the pandemic, among other requirements.

Landlords can still evict tenants for other violations such as damaging property or violating other terms of their lease agreement.

Are The Eviction Moratoriums Legal?

On February 25, 2021, a Texas federal judge ruled that the CDC moratorium (Lauren Terkel et al v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention et al, U.S. Eastern District Court Texas 6:20-cv-00564) was unconstitutional. However, the U.S. Supreme Court left the CDC moratorium in place.

The U.S. Supreme Court, who took up the CDC moratorium in the Alabama Association of Realtors et al. v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al. (594 U.S. 20A169 2021), allowed the CDC moratorium to remain in place, in part because the CDC had indicated it would end it on July 31. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the CDC had “exceeded” its authority to issue the moratorium but because it was not going to be renewed it would not continue with the case.

When Will The CDC Moratorium Expire?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) is set to expire at end of July 2021. When it was last extended, the CDC said it would be the last extension. The original CDC moratorium was set to expire on December 31, 2020, but it has been extended four times.

The last extension was issued on June 24. Before that extension, the moratorium was set to expire on June 30. When the CDC made the last extension, it said in a statement that “this is intended to be the final extension of the moratorium.” At the last extension, the Biden administration said it extended the moratorium as part of a government approach to preventing a historic wave of evictions during the summer.

What Our Analysis Shows For El Paso

Because of the upcoming end to the eviction moratorium, El Paso Politics examined court records starting in 2018 through June 30, 2021, to understand how the moratorium has impacted El Paso renters.

In Texas, landlord and tenant disputes are handled by the Justice of the Peace. In El Paso, there are eight Justice of the Peace courts divided into seven precincts with an additional court for Precinct 6. Eviction cases are tracked as civil cases and are designated Landlord/Tenant cases by the Texas Office of Court Administration.

There are two types of case designators that we focused on, “new cases filed,” and “cases disposed”. We selected these two designators because new cases filed suggests that a landlord filed an eviction case against a tenant. But because a case filing does not show that a tenant was evicted, we also correlated the new filing with the cases that were closed.

It is important to note that a “disposed” case does not necessarily indicate that the tenant was evicted. It simply shows that the case was closed for various reasons, including an eviction, a case dismissal or the landlord dropped the case.

The new cases filed and correlated with closed cases allows us to examine trends over the last three years and gives us the opportunity to correlate those with the effect, if any, the moratorium had and if an eviction tsunami may be on the horizon.

Eviction Analysis 2018 – June 2021

In comparing the eviction activity for 2018, 2019, 2020 and for the first six months of 2021, we noted that in 2021 new filings remained below the previous trend. We noted a drop in filings starting in September 2021, after the CDC ordered the eviction moratorium.

However, as readers will note, new filings picked up after November 2020.

For the cases that were “disposed,” we noted that a spike occurred in April 2021. We are unable to determine the reason for the April 2021 spike.

Court Activity By Precinct

Activity by Precinct 2018 – June 2021

As readers can observe from our analysis above, there is an appreciable drop in the number of cases filed and disposed of during the pandemic in 2020. Readers should also note that the individual precincts generally remained the same as they relate to each other, except for John Chatman’s court, Precinct 5.

In the first six months of 2021, John Chatman’s court disposed of 722 cases, considerably higher than the other justices of the peace and higher than the 143 cases his court received during the same period. It is unknown why the cases were disposed and what the outcomes were.

El Paso Politics sent a request for comment via email to Chatman’s court coordinator and court clerk via email yesterday and as of press time we have not received a response to our questions. We will update this report should we get a response from Chatman.

We will continue to monitor the eviction cases in El Paso in the coming months and report on our findings. We will be looking to understand whether a looming housing crisis will hit El Paso when the CDC moratorium officially ends.

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Footnote:

  1. Statement by Mathew Desmond, “On the Brink of Homelessness: How the Affordable Housing Crisis and the Gentrification of America Is Leaving Families vulnerable,” United States House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, January 14, 2020.

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