Texas Supreme Court Issues Executive Order Extending Pandemic-Era Protections; Applications for Rent Relief Set to Reopen in Texas This Week

The Supreme Court of Texas issued an executive order on March 1extending pandemic-era protections that were set to expire this month. Meanwhile, the Texas Rent Relief (TRR) program and Texas Eviction Diversion Program (TEDP) announced they would begin accepting applications for the first time in more than a year.

Executive Order No. 58, which was renewed alongside both programs, allows tenants and landlords to apply for direct rental assistance payments, while also allowing tenants to pause their eviction case if they enter mediation with their landlord in order to find an alternative to eviction. For cases that are mediated through TEDP, a tenant will be able to have their eviction record sealed from public view. The move by TEDP, which is the first program of its kind in the state, makes Texas one of 10 states nationwide to have implemented eviction record sealing policies and programs since 2016.

The TRR program was launched in February 2021 alongside TEDP. Both programs closed for applications in November 2021, and all funds were committed by January 2022. In the first iteration, TEDP succeeded in arranging for more than 21,000 renter households to have their evictions prevented and their court records made confidential, while the state’s emergency rental assistance program was able to serve more than 310,000 households and pay out over $2 billion in direct rental assistance payments of up to 15 months in past due and current rents.

Eviction diversion policies, including eviction record sealing policies like those outlined by TEDP, are effective tools when it comes to keeping tenants housed. Evictions have lasting, and sometimes permanent, consequences. In the early stages of the eviction process, when a landlord files an eviction with the court system, the filing is added to a tenant’s record almost instantly – becoming accessible not only to future landlords but to the public as well. An eviction record is present on an individual’s credit report for up to seven years and, as a result, can cause an individual to fail a background screening when applying for housing, preventing some applicants with eviction records from accessing safe and stable housing.

Since 2020, Texas has renewed its eviction record sealing policies 14 times. Even more notable is the fact that, of the executive orders issued by the Supreme Court of Texas, eviction diversion has been the only pandemic-era protection to have been continually renewed by the court, while every other executive order relating to the pandemic has been allowed to sunset. The first order was issued under Executive Order No. 27 in September 2020 and formally set the groundwork to establish the state’s eviction diversion program.

In October 2020, as the state reported an average of more than 10,000 eviction filings per month, the Texas Coronavirus Relief Bill Rental Assistance Program, otherwise known as TRR, established a pilot program to remedy the growing eviction crisis in the state and help divert eviction cases. The program, which was launched in collaboration with the Supreme Court of Texas, the Texas Office of Court Administration, and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, is formally known as TEDP. The program, which receives its funding from TRR, initially served more than 380 households and used a total of $3.3 million to provide tenants and landlords with up to six months in rental payments. Because the pilot program was a success, a more permanent program was launched.

When the program officially launched, it committed to providing individuals with up to 15 months of rental and utility payments, including 12 months of back-owed rent, one month of current rent, and two months for future rent. In addition to providing financial assistance, TEDP used a special court process that trained Justice of the Peace staff to invite tenants and landlords to participate in the eviction diversion program. If the tenant and landlord agreed, the Justice of the Peace would pause the eviction case with the court for 60 days and would make all records related to the case confidential. If the landlord received any form of rental assistance during the 60-day process, whether from the TRR or a local emergency rental assistance program, the Justice of the Peace would dismiss the case and all eviction records related to the case would remain confidential.

There were also several criteria that tenants had to meet to utilize the program’s services. To be eligible for the program, tenants were required to:

  • Be living in a household that had been sued for residential eviction.
  • Have an eviction court docket number.
  • Have applied for the TRR before applying for TEDP.
  • Have a household income at or below 80% of the state’s area median income (AMI)
  • Certify that the household had either qualified for unemployment benefits on or after March 13, 2020, OR experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.

The program eligibility was changed in 2021 to allow tenants who had not yet applied for emergency rental assistance to do so when they applied for TEDP. The change also allowed tenants who applied for any emergency rental assistance provided through the state, including ones at the local level, to apply for the TEDP program. Additionally, eligibility for the program was updated to allow a landlord to apply for the program in lieu of the tenant, with the landlord being the one to receive direct payments from the program.

Since its inception, TEDP has received more than $200 million of the $2 billion in housing funds allocated to the state to sustain the program. During the newest round of funding, the program will receive $9.6 million of the $96 million allocated to both eviction diversion programs and will open applications for two weeks starting on March 14.

The program will not only have support from the government agencies that will oversee implementation of the program, but from organizations providing legal assistance and advocacy as well. Texas Housers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that all Texans have the opportunity to secure decent housing, has tracked eviction filings as they occur within the state in order to advocate for stronger tenant protections. Texas Housers also served as a cohort member of the End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions (ERASE) project in 2021.

“The bipartisan effort by the State of Texas and the Texas Supreme Court to keep tenants housed during the pandemic successfully prevented hundreds of thousands of evictions,” said Ben Martin, research director at Texas Housers. “The reopening of TRR and TEDP and the extension of the Emergency Order by the Texas Supreme Court will help even more struggling tenants to stay stably housed and to keep harmful eviction filing information off of their records. We applaud these efforts, and yet we also know that $96 million will not be enough. We estimate that there were more eviction filings in 2022 than ever before in Texas. One in five renters in the state pays over 50% of their income toward rent. This is unsustainable. The State of Texas has a budget surplus of over $32 billion and an additional $5.2 billion in unspent American Rescue Plan State Fiscal Recovery funds. TRR and TEDP are proven successful programs and the state should fund them.”

Learn more about the Texas’ Eviction Diversion Program at: https://texasrentrelief.com/tedp-overview/

Learn more about NLIHC’s ERASE Project at: https://nlihc.org/erase-project