Houston is evicting people during the coronavirus crisis. Here's what you can do to stop them.
Updated: Mar 19, 2020
UPDATE 03/19 at 11:30pm: As of Wednesday evening 3/18, all but 2 Harris County Justices of the Peace had suspended evictions for the remainder of March. The Texas Supreme Court has issued an order suspending evictions until after April 26th. 2020, but landlords can still file evictions. This a bit short of what we were calling for, and we still suspect with the disaster-eviction data that we have that this will still leave many tenants displaced and houseless by the end of April. Please stay tuned for updates and feel free to continue calling for the full thrust of our demands. Thank you every who took the time this week to call, we are getting somewhere! Houston is evicting people during the Coronavirus crisis. It's time to stop them! The near total catastrophe of Coronavirus (we recommend visiting the CDC and WHO websites for more information) has left tenants in Houston more vulnerable than ever. As tenant unionists, we find a solution to social problems in tenants coming together, but physically this is an impossibility right now. We are also still new, having one campaign under our belts from last year (article on this is forthcoming) we are simply ill-prepared for the coming attack our fellow tenants are likely to face in the coming months. Our hearts break for the pain and suffering that is to come. Studies clearly show that houselessness often begins with evictions.
Harris County, the largest county that makes up most of Houston, is processing and carrying out evictions right now. We cannot allow what happened after Hurricane Harvey to happen again. Evictions ramped up quickly before anyone had a chance to recover, there was a very brief dip of 23% less evictions during the month of September when Harvey hit, and huge increase in the following months from the years prior. People were evicted in greater numbers than ever before, and we know it’s because landlords were evicting tenants in uninhabitable apartments and houses. Eviction courts began operating faster and by October had a 20 day turnaround time. We have seen this in real time with tenants in our recent organizing. We have to act now in order to secure our homes and well being during this crisis. Since the onset of the public health crisis, popular calls for moratoriums on evictions as well as on rent, utilities and mortgage payments have grown across the country. As a result, there have been at least 30 orders (and counting) re-defining or restricting the remit of landlords issued from city, state and federal governments. The content of these restrictions however vary significantly. San Jose, Seattle and other cities have issued various moratoriums on evictions, which includes sweeps, which are evictions of unhoused people. Seattle’s order, also, effectively eliminates the ability of landlords to initiate the eviction process for 30 days and gives additional legal ground for tenants, unable to make rent payments during the crisis. In the state of California and the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the moratorium on evictions is limited to cases only involving the non-payment of rent/loss of income due to pandemic-related causes. In Texas, developments appear even weaker. In Travis County, eviction court has been terminated only until April 1st and with no restriction of landlord initiative. The results are only slightly more tenant friendly in Bexar County. In Houston, the mayor has prohibited water service disconnections – ignoring that this is what evictions do. There are some things that can be done remotely and already have been done. Thank you so much to everyone who has called during our mass phone and email campaigns to the local Justice of the Peace (henceforth, JPs), and all the people on twitter (especially @zoyamiddleton and @sarahesmith23) who have been reporting on the recent issues facing tenants, housed and unhoused. A week ago, there was no word on what was next for evictions, today the vast majority of civil courthouses agreed to suspend until at least April. The difference is that many people called and emailed and kept calling and emailing. We need to keep it up! The progress so far in Houston, the very temporary suspensions by most of the Justice of the Peace, are not enough. Although we know a lot of housing law, such as the possibility of rent stabilization, rest with powers that be in Austin at the state level, however we are seeing action being taken now at the municipal level all over the country, and we demand the same here. We need bureaucratic nonsense to be put aside to do what is right and freeze evictions. It should be noted that the landlords are already being bailed out, banks are moving to suspend foreclosures before tenants have any security.
The Demands: What Tenants in Houston should demand immediately towards the highest levels of both the City of Houston and Harris County, namely those below. These demands have been fully implemented in other cities by Mayors and County Judges, they should be possible in Houston: We demand a moratorium on residential evictions for non-payment up to at least 60 days and extendable while the proclamation of Civil Emergency is still on. Owners of housing units should not be allowed to issue notices of termination or initiate eviction actions during this moratorium. Further, we also demand that no late fees, or other charges due to late payment of rent shall accrue. We also demand that for any pending eviction for the non-payment of rent, it is a defense that such eviction would occur during a period of Civil Emergency, because we are currently under a public health emergency. Courts should be able to grant a continuance for a future hearing date in order for the eviction action to be heard after the moratorium.
We demand an immediate end to the sweeps, which will only exacerbate the health crisis houseless people face. Now is not the time to use “sanitation” as an excuse to confiscate the little these people have. Houseless people are tenants as well, these are evictions too and must end.
Seattle has passed a mayoral ordinance and has stopped the sweeps and implemented all the above demands. Houston can do so as well. There are county JPs who have done some suspensions, however only 1, JP Jeremy Brown, has come close to meeting the above demands. Therefore, we need people to continue to call and email all other JPs, the County Court (Lina Hidalgo), and City Hall and the Mayor of Houston (Sylvester Turner). We are looking at you.
CALL: Lina Hidalgo: (713) 274-7000
Lina Hidalgo email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sylvester Turner: (713) 837.0311 Sylvester Turner email: email@example.com, Sylvester@SylvesterTurner.com, Find your local JP: http://www.jp.hctx.net/info/Map.htm JPs that have suspended evictions for the demanded time-frame (no need to call or email for now): 7-1, Brown (specifically suspended evictions for 60 days!) Suspended evictions through at least April or “indefinitely”, but have not guaranteed for 60 days (please call and email, scripts below):
1-1 Carter: 713 274 0695 firstname.lastname@example.org
1-2 Patronella: 713-274-0632 (no email on website, but try email@example.com )
2-1 Delgado: 281-481-9630 firstname.lastname@example.org
2-2 Risner: 713-274-6100 email@example.com
3-1 Stephens: 713-274-0760 (press 4) (no email on website, but try firstname.lastname@example.org )
3-2 Bates: 713-274-0900 email@example.com
4-1 Goodwin: 713-274-6550 firstname.lastname@example.org
5-1 Ridgway: 713-661-2276 email@example.com
5-2 Williams: 713-274-0800 firstname.lastname@example.org
6-1 Vara: 713-274-3985 email@example.com
6-2 Rodriguez: 713-274-8774 (no email on website, but try firstname.lastname@example.org)
7-2 Burney: 713-274-0700 (no email on website, but try email@example.com)
8-2 Ditta: 281-488-8780 (no email on website, but try firstname.lastname@example.org) 8-1, Williamson: (281) 479-6900 (no email on website, but try email@example.com)
Will be resuming evictions presumably 3/24 (please call and email, scripts below): 4-2, Korduba (713) 274-2450 firstname.lastname@example.org
Courts still hearing eviction cases with no end in sight (please call and email, scripts below):
5-2 Williams: 713-274-0800, email@example.com
SCRIPT: Here is a phone script, staying close to the script helps push the same message and avoids confusion and shows unity: Voice Script: "Hi, my name is ____, I am a resident of Harris County living in this court's jurisdiction. On behalf of tenants in the Houston area, I demand that this court suspend evictions, including sweeps of houseless people, for 60 days while the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, as a matter of housing justice and public health necessity. See houstontenantsunion.org for the specific demands. Suspend evictions for 60 days.” Email script: "Hi, my name is ____, I am a resident of Harris County living in this court's jurisdiction. On behalf of tenants in the Houston area, I demand that this court suspend evictions for 60 days while the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, as a matter of housing justice and public health necessity. Owners of housing units should not be allowed to issue notices of termination or initiate eviction actions during this moratorium. Further, we also demand that no late fees, or other charges due to late payment of rent shall accrue. We also demand that for any pending eviction for the non-payment of rent, it is a defense that such eviction would occur during a period of Civil Emergency, because we are currently under a public health emergency. Courts should be able to grant a continuance for a future hearing date in order for the eviction action to be heard after the moratorium.
We also demand an immediate end to the sweeps, which will only exacerbate the health crisis houseless people face. Now is not the time to use “sanitation” as an excuse to confiscate the little these people have. Houseless people are tenants as well, these are evictions too and must end. Seattle has passed a mayoral ordinance and has stopped the sweeps and implemented all the above demands. Houston can do so as well!" SIGN: A local Tenant has also put the following petition together, we support these demands as well, please sign and distribute: https://www.change.org/p/mayor-sylvester-turner-suspend-rent-mortgage-bills-in-houston-during-covid-19 This isn’t the end. Houston tenants are brave and we have seen what tenant power can do. There will be next steps if demands are not met. We are reaching out to people who know who work with incarcerated tenants to formulate targets and demands for them as well. There are now billions of desperate tenants all across the world and we will not be silent. Housing is a human right!