By Juan Pablo Garnham | The Texas Tribune
Texans living in more than 8,800 rental properties can now find out if they are protected from eviction proceedings and financial penalties for not paying housing costs as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy. The National Low Income Housing Coalition launched a new searchable database that lets people check whether a federal moratorium on certain penalties, which lasts until Aug. 23, applies to where they live.
Experts are concerned for the short- and long-term housing stability of the 1.7 million renters in the state. More than 1 million Texans have applied for unemployment insurance since mid-March, and a slowdown in the economy might make it harder for people to pay for housing, which was already too expensive for many low-income Texans.
“If you are a tenant and you are concerned about paying rent for the next couple of months, the database would be able to show if you’re protected from displacement by law,” said Christina Rosales, deputy director of the advocacy group Texas Housers. “That is an important measure for someone who is experiencing the trauma of the pandemic and the stresses of trying to make ends meet.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which provided $2 trillion in aid, included a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings on renters in homes covered by federally backed mortgages. After that period, a landlord still has to provide 30 days’ notice before residents must vacate the property, which would give tenants in these properties protections until Aug. 23.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s website allows people to search by ZIP code, by city and through a map for specific addresses. It includes multifamily properties of five or more rental units, but it doesn’t include smaller buildings covered by the moratorium because federal housing institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “do not make complete data available,” according to Andrew Aurand, vice president for research of the coalition.
Aurand said some renters “may still be covered even if their property is not in the database” and advised them to ask landlords or search property records to find out if the building’s mortgage is backed by federal institutions, like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or the Federal Housing Administration.
Even if a property does not benefit from these programs, a tenant might still be protected through state, county or city moratoriums, which the database doesn’t take in account. In Texas, the state Supreme Court has halted most eviction proceedings until April 30.
Texas advocates recommend calling 311 or local legal aid institutions to find which state or local protections apply.
“What we are seeing is that people are being intimidated by landlords, and they’re being told that they’re going to face eviction for nonpayment. And that’s just across the state,” Rosales said.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition is pressing legislators to expand protections for renters.
“The next COVID-19 spending package should include a uniform national moratorium on evictions and $100 billion in rental assistance to preserve affordable housing and prevent low-income renters from falling off a financial cliff when the moratoria are lifted,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the coalition.
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