By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many people’s health, jobs, education, income and relationships since March 2020. As a result, the virus has also had a negative impact on the housing industry and resident’s housing security.
Many people in Dallas County are facing housing insecurity due to the pandemic and have experienced threats of eviction or the eviction process due to job loss and loss of income.
Ashley Brundage, executive director of Housing Stability and senior vice president of Community Impact of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, said since COVID-19 hit the world, more and more people are seeking rental assistance.
However, she said the current data does not offer a clear look at the rate of evictions because of a moratorium on evictions, so they look like they have decreased.
“We know that upwards of 134,000 rental households are at risk of eviction right now because of the economic crisis we are in,” Brundage said. “It’s just that with the moratorium we are not seeing as many of those filings as we normally would. We know that 40% of families in Dallas County are not financially stable so knowing how the economic crisis has hit these families I would assume that these 134,000 households for Dallas County that are at risk would continue to grow.”
Judge Jones of Precinct 1 Place 1 in Dallas County said, before the COVID pandemic, his court handled roughly 10,000 eviction cases each year.
“That’s a lot of people that end up hurting,” Jones said. “Families having to relocate, families needing some assistance. And what we do – I work with Judge Valencia Nash and Constable Gulley, although Judge Nash is Precinct 1 Place 2 – we work together for the benefit of the citizens in Precinct 1.”
Jones said that the pandemic has somewhat changed the process.
“We handle them the same now, except now there is an extra layer in terms of dealing with the COVID and the CDC where families have been negatively impacted by what’s taking place by this pandemic and people have lost a source of income that don’t have the ability to pay. And what we do we reach out into the community to find some resources that can help the people,” the judge explained.
Meeting the criteria
On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economy Security Act and it was put into law. The act provided protection for people and businesses negatively affected by the virus. Section 4024 of the act provided a 120 day moratorium on eviction filings.
However, there are some that may not qualify, due to the guidelines of the moratorium.
Chanta Baker and Olinka Green are local residents who were evicted after having suffered financially due the pandemic.
Baker, a single mother of two, she said the eviction process turned her whole world upside down after she lost her job in September 2020. She and her family experienced many hardships as she struggled to pay rent. In the midst of her termoil, the state experienced a freeze that led to power outages for many residents, including Baker.
“We were here without hot water for almost three weeks. We had no hot water,” Baker said.
She said she behind on my rent after loosing her job, but she and her famiy had to go to a hotel after losing power.
“First they put a paper on the door saying how much I owed. But it wasn’t an eviction paper saying that I needed to vacate or anything,” she said.
“After a couple days later, the constable came knocking on my door and I went to them to talk about my situation. Then they were saying that I have to go to court, so I went to court. I did my Centers for Disease Control and Prevention form, and then I went to court.”
Baker indicated that her job would not have been terminiated if the pandemic would not have put a strain on the employer. However, the judge explained that the paperwork did not state the pandemic as its cause of the termination – as the moratorium required.
“It didn’t say it on the paper. It just said that I had lost my job and that was what I was telling Judge Jones. He was like, it’s not true. But on my CDC on the form that they gave me, it said something about either lost wages due to COVID,” Baker said. “So either way it goes, I feel like I lost wages. Judge Jones is really trying not to hear nothing.”
“I feel like me personally they shouldn’t be putting nobody out during the pandemic … It ain’t right. There are people out here that are struggling and they are still putting people out. That is not right,” she declared.
Baker reached out to nonprofits such as Harmony and organizations like Dallas Stops Evictions to get help. She said she learned something from her expereience and had advice for people facing a similar hurdle.
“I just tell them to pray and ask God to guide them in the right direction and don’t give up,” Baker said.
As of last week, Baker was still looking for employment and a place for ther family to stay.
Displaced during COVID
Green, who is also a single mother that experienced eviction, said her case was different from most.
“I was lucky that I had some money saved up,” Green stated.
She was staying in a house owned by her ex-husband and his wife until Green was evicted from the premises.
“She didn’t want me there after four years of living at the house, taking care of the house, repairing the house. She didn’t want me there, and so he didn’t want me there … I was a damn good tenant.”
Green said officials went to her house at 4 a.m. and left notes on her door.
“They came in the next day telling me, ‘You don’t have entry into this house,’” Green said. “I have never seen this before. Trying to change the locks on the door and then you have to go before these judges who don’t know you and plead your case. And he goes along with these landlords. Then you have to go through this 30-day period of trying to figure out where you are going to go. And then they come to your house and touch your things and your children are watching. And they put your stuff out onto the curb and they violate you and it is a public violation and everybody is watching. And there is nothing that you can do if you don’t have anybody there to protect you. I think about all those poor Black and Brown women out there who – because this landlord wants money, because of COVID, because the judge is like Judge Thomas Jones who doesn’t have pity. This is a public rape of women. This is a public destroying of a family. It is traumatizing and you never get over it.”
Green said she is seeking counseling now because the process has been traumatizing.
“I am seeing a therapist now for what I went through because it triggered PTSD,” Green said.
“Somebody who violated you, your whole world away from you. And you can’t get past that because wherever you go, when they pull your record up it says, ‘Oh you got an eviction.’ And you pass your old neighborhood and you see your house where you got married, and you building that house and you took care of that house but because of these people that are in power, they take away your life. And it is very hard to put it back together.”
She said her family was affected as well. Her children had to change schools and no longer have a backyard to play with the family dog.
“It affects your community because you are part of a vibrant community that loves you,” Green said. “It affects your work because you lose your job or you have to go through this process. You sit up at night and you wonder who’s out there or your’e wondering when they are going to come in.”
Green has also had to take on the added expense of renting a moving truck to relocated. She also had to leave large items such as her washer, dryer, stove and refrigerator.
“I couldn’t take that with me I had to give those things away. I remember at one point in time when I used to live in the projects I used to have to walk six or seven blocks to go wash clothes. There is nothing good that comes out of eviction.”
During the process, Green and her family lived in a shelter and she contracted COVID-19.
“My life was put in danger,” she said. “I am slowly doing better, but I will never be the same again.”
Green sought help from Democrats Association of America and Dallas Stops Evictions.
A commitment to law and compassion
Jones said, as a judge, he is compassionate about peoeple’s situation but he still has a civic duty to follow.
“What we do in our court is to make sure that we follow the law. And once I fulfill my duty – my legal duty that’s to hear the case and let the evidence determine what the judgement is going to be and if the judgement is in favor of the landlord – then what we do is we provide resources for those families,” he said. “We have identified more than 30 nonprofit agencies and some churches that provide rental assistance throughout the year. So once I do my legal obligation for what I was elected office to do, I still have a moral obligation to my fellow man, and that is where we become a reservoir of information that we pass on to the families so they can get the assistance that they need to keep a roof over their head and keep food on the table.”
Organizations such as Dallas Stops Evictions and the Dallas Tenants Union have held protests in front of Jones’ court outside and opposes his judgement of those facing evictions during the pandemic.
“We, number one, adhere to the CDC order and that is that if a tenant files a declaration that will base the case,” Jones said. “What we do, Judge Nash and myself, we have welcomed North Texas Legal into our court to provide legal assistance to those families to help them with that declaration. If the families comply with the declaration order that case is abated.
“We follow the law. I would think that those that are protesting would realize that is what they want us to do because that is what we have been elected to do.”
Jones stated that he nor the court system has abandoned families struggling with housing insecurities.
“We as a community will come through this together and we cannot and have not abandoned those families that are in need,” Jones stated. “And I hope that we don’t overlook the point that is, myself and Judge Nash, we go beyond what is required as we assist these families and identify any resources available to them that they might not otherwise know about or have access to. We provide that information unsolicited and if you would walk into my court or in Judge Nash’s court you will see that information that is on the table and we offer that to those families.”
Another way Jones said his court has helped is by working with local churches in the area such ast the Inspiring Body of Christ Church in Dallas and its pastor Rickie Rush.
“He assisted some 100 families to the tune of a little better than $100,000 with people needing rental assistance to those families who have been either been identified by Judge Nash or by myself and these seniors 65 and older that need that assistance,” Jones said. “We are going to deal with our seniors once again and work with Councilman Tennell Atkins. Atkins and his staff will identify the 100 seniors that need assistance.”
Brundage said her organization offers some help for those struggling to pay rent.
“What is good is that we have some stimulus funding that is going to start flowing into people’s hands. We have rental assistance that is going to start flowing in soon coming out of the city of Dallas,” she said. “The numbers at risk are huge but there are resources that are coming to help kind of stem that tide. The need is greater than the solution. But there are the financial resources coming now. The city of Dallas received about $40 million in rental assistance that they are working on to get out to nonprofits right now.”
United Way has received about $10 million of that and they are partnering with 12 nonprofits to get out rental and utility assistance into people’s hands to help stabilize them.