A state eviction diversion program launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been extended, according to a new emergency order from the Texas Supreme Court released on Monday.
The diversion program was set to expire on July 27. The new order extends it until Oct. 1.
In September, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the creation of the Texas Eviction Diversion Program and said the state would use $171 million in federal CARES Act funding for rental assistance and legal services for Texans facing eviction. The program originally included 19 counties before expanding statewide in February.
The voluntary program created an alternative to evictions when both tenants and landlords agree to participate, offering up to 15 months of rental and utility assistance for tenants. Once tenants and their landlords agree in court to pursue state assistance, eviction proceedings can be delayed for up to 60 days.
If the application is approved, the tenant can remain in their home and the landlord will receive lump-sum payments for past-due rent and late fees; at that point, the eviction case is dismissed and doesn’t become a public record. But landlords can decide at any time during the 60-day period to restart the eviction process.
Monday’s order also allows a judge to postpone the eviction for 60 days if a landlord has a pending application for the program on behalf of a tenant or if both parties say they’re interested in participating.
To be eligible for the diversion program, tenants must have an active eviction case and a household income either at or below 80% of the median income in their area. In February, the state introduced a $1.3 billion statewide rent relief program that also aids tenants with rental assistance to prevent housing instability or potential eviction. A portion of that money also helps to fund the eviction diversion program.
So far, the state’s rent relief program has assisted more than 80,000 households, including more than 10,000 households that have received more than $90 million in assistance through the eviction diversion program, according to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
Fred Fuchs, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said that although he has seen the statewide rent relief program make a difference in clients’ lives, evictions are still a worry because a federal eviction moratorium is set to expire on July 31. State orders that helped to enforce the federal moratorium expired at the end of March.
“I think it’s inevitable [evictions are] going to rise,” Fuchs said. “I hope I’m wrong, but I see an increase in evictions.”