Saturday, January 29, 2022

Houston Eviction Courts Back To Pre-Pandemic Levels

houstonpublicmedia |  The state rent relief program is out of money. The national eviction moratorium ended months ago. Pandemic unemployment benefits in Texas expired over the summer. While the pandemic isn’t over, most of the state’s court safety regulations have ended or are set to expire soon.

That means more eviction filings and, in some areas, crowded courtrooms that make it near impossible to stay safely distant indoors: So far this month, more than 4,600 eviction cases have been filed in Harris County as the omicron variant led to climbing case counts and hospitalizations.

During the week of Jan. 10, more than 2,033 cases were filed in Harris County, compared to 693 cases filed during the same period last year, according to Jeff Reichman, principal at the consulting firm January Advisors.

“That’s almost three times as many cases filed this January as there were last January,” Reichman said. “We’re really on trend with pre-pandemic numbers.”

In 2020, 2,180 cases were filed during the same time period.

Earlier this month, during the week of Jan. 10, more than 2,033 cases were filed in Harris County compared to 693 cases filed last year, Reichman said. During the same week of 2020, 2,180 cases were filed.

The increase in eviction cases is hitting some courts more than others: Just as some neighborhoods have far more evictions, certain courts take on far more cases.

Last Tuesday, Harris County Judge Lincoln Goodwin’s court scheduled 275 evictions to be heard on the same day — half of them at 9 a.m. and the other half at 1 p.m.

Every seat in the courtroom was taken. A line stretched down the hallway and into the parking lot. The judge and court staff weren’t wearing masks.

Eric Kwartler, an attorney with South Texas College of Law, said he feels at risk of getting COVID-19 when he’s there representing renters.

“Do I feel safe? No. I never do,” Kwartler said. “I never feel safe when I go into an environment like that.”

The court has cut back on virtual hearings, Kwartler added, only allowing virtual hearings for those who submit proof of a positive COVID test.

“I had a client cough on me at one point and then tell the court that his wife was at home with COVID,” Kwartler said.


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