The COVID pandemic absolutely devastated the American economy, including renters. Though help was supposed to be on the way with the Texas Rent Relief program, it’s gotten off to a slow start.
In August, the Supreme Court struck down the eviction moratorium that had protected the 40 million Americans at risk of losing their homes because of the ongoing health crisis. The move sent tenants scrambling to find ways to pay overdue rents despite job and wage losses. Enter the Texas Rental Relief program. In January, the state received $2 billion of emergency rental relief money from the federal government, about $1.3 billion of which went into the TRR program. Tenants were eligible for up to fifteen months of rent assistance provided their income was 80 percent of the median income for the area.
Thousands applied, and many were even approved, but funds were slow to trickle into accounts of either landlords or tenants. Only a few hundred were initially able to get anywhere with the program, though that has gotten better as the year wore on. According to a spokesman, $785,934,874 has been paid out so far to 132,000 households, but another $63 million of funds that are approved are still waiting to be distributed.
“Processing times have varied since the start of the program due to the shifting volume of applications received. We are taking additional steps to shrink these timelines,” they said in a statement to KPRC.
In the meantime, evictions are a go-ahead. In August of last year, State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) sought a legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton regarding evictions. The AG office concluded that local Texas governments could not delay evictions as it amounted to rewriting state law. The move came after Republicans began criticizing city mayors, especially Austin’s Steve Adler, for issuing their own eviction moratoriums.
Paxton eventually returned with a nonbinding opinion stating that legally cities did not have the right to prevent landlords from evicting tenants. The move was praised by the conservative Montgomery paper The Golden Hammer, who called the move “refreshing turn for rulings from Austin, which may help to bring an eventual end to legislation-by-edict from local government officials during the Chinese Coronavirus panic.”
Interestingly, The Golden Hammer was founded by Eric Yollick. Yollick has run a realtor law firm that works with the Signorelli Company, a Woodlands-based developer that specializes in single-family rental home communities. They just broke ground on a new development in Conroe called Chapel Run. The vice president of the Signorelli Company is State Sen. Brandon Creighton.
With funds from the Texas Rent Relief program flowing slowly and the loss of the moratorium on evictions, it’s likely that more Texas renters will find themselves unable to stay in their homes. In Montgomery County especially, real estate is booming, and developers are building new communities for renters that they now have significantly more control over.