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COVID-19 Recession in Texas

Texas will spend $171 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to help renters avoid evictions

The new program will provide rental assistance and legal aid for tenants who are behind on rent. Details on how Texans could apply or qualify weren't immediately released.

An apartment complex near downtown Waco on Feb. 26, 2019.

Texas is using $171 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to provide financial and legal aid to renters facing eviction, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday.

The vast majority of that money — $167 million — will go toward rental assistance. Another $4.2 million will be used to fund legal services for Texans.

Abbott's office also said in a press release that the state is creating the Texas Eviction Diversion Program, which will coordinate state agencies, local governments and nonprofits to help renters avoid evictions and catch up with missed rent payments.

It wasn't immediately clear how the money would be divvied up, but Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs spokesperson Kristina Tirloni explained that cities, counties and nonprofits will manage the application process. Although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development needs to approve the funding, the state estimates that the money will be available by the winter holidays in communities with existing rental assistance programs, and by the start of 2021 in the rest of Texas.

"The Texas Eviction Diversion Program is crucial to our state's response to COVID-19, and it will help many families recover from the impact of the pandemic without the looming threat of eviction," Abbott said in the release. "This innovative partnership, coupled with the renters assistance provided through CARES Act funding, will strengthen our economic recovery efforts and provide a lifeline to renters and property owners alike."

Since the pandemic began in March, more than 3.5 million Texans have filed for unemployment, and staying current on rent has become a main concern of Texans who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut. According to a survey done in late August by the U.S. Census Bureau, 36.8% of Texans said they were somewhat or very likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months. Data from the Princeton-based research center The Eviction Lab shows that eviction filings have increased in some of Texas' largest cities since a statewide moratorium ended in mid-May.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new nationwide eviction moratorium earlier this month that will last until Dec. 31.

Since then, the Texas Supreme Court ordered every eviction citation to include information about the moratorium, as well as the form that tenants are required to fill to seek protection from being evicted.

Christina Rosales, deputy director of the advocacy organization Texas Housers, said that Abbott's new program was "unprecedented" and a "good start," but more needs to be done to avoid an increase in evictions in January, when the CDC moratorium expires.

"In Texas, tenants can be evicted because of nonpayment of rent. The thing that will keep them housed is rent assistance," Rosales said. "Legal assistance, right to counsel and eviction diversion will help manage the crisis, but if we want to steer our way out of the crisis, we will need more rental relief."

Texas' most populated cities and counties have created similar rent-assistance programs, mostly using CARES Act funding, too. These have experienced high levels of demand. San Antonio offered residents $50.3 million for rent and legal assistance, which city officials expected to be tapped by the end of this month. Since then, the city has added $24.1 million to the program, which is expected to last until mid-December. In Houston, the first round of a $15 million rental assistance program was drained in 90 minutes. Since then, the city announced a new $19 million program.

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