In the latest installment of our weekly conversation with Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, she talks about eviction filings. We encourage readers to also look for a special Fort Worth Report analysis coming soon on the subject. (Because of technical difficulties, the audio portion of the interview with the mayor did not record properly. The transcript of the interview is below.)
Hello, I’m Jessica Priest with the Fort Worth Report, and I am meeting with Mayor Mattie Parker for a few minutes. This is part of what we hope will be a series of conversations with Parker and other community leaders. Thank you for joining us, Mayor Parker.
Hey, Jessica, good to see you again.
For our listeners, this week, we don’t have a lot of time with Parker so we’re going to keep it short and focus on asking her about evictions, which one of my colleagues is reporting on.
Court records show there have been nearly 1,200 eviction filings in Tarrant County in the past month and Fort Worth is also 4th in a list of 10 U.S. cities with the most eviction filings. That list was published by United Way.
I saw that the city has an emergency rental assistance program, so Mayor Parker, is that what the city is doing to prevent evictions or is there something more? And how is that program going?
Yes, good question, Jessica. We understand that families have been hit incredibly hard. They were on the margins before COVID and the pandemic and, of course, that really pushed things over the edge. And I’m incredibly proud of the Neighborhood Services team in the city of Fort Worth, other departments working together alongside Tarrant County and the city of Arlington, to look at a comprehensive way of how we can help as city government, families in need, especially during the pandemic.
You alluded to the number of evictions here in Fort Worth. We understand there’s been a back and forth that’s happened in our court system as to whether there could be a moratorium in place by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or whether there could not. So instead of waiting that out, we decided to be really focused on sort of a regional Tarrant County approach to help our residents that are in need, and just keep them paying their rent. We know that just delaying the wind coming through is just really pushing the problem further down the road. So we’ve got a serious investment that I think our staff feels is pretty straightforward. It’s a really easy way to reach rental assistance. And we also know that larger projects like the Casa de Esperanza project specifically to house our homeless folks, permanent supportive housing, has been incredibly helpful.
So to your question, yes, we created this rental assistance program, the money made it possible through federal assistance. The coronavirus relief bills made it possible.
So I asked staff for a few statistics to share with your listeners, so they understand how the program’s been working. First of all, it was a promise made and a promise delivered by city staff, and it started under Mayor Price’s leadership and that council to really meet the needs and we continue that work now, led by neighborhood services and Victor Turner, but it sounds like there’s just over 8,700 initiated applications in the city of Fort Worth through our program. We’ve paid out to almost 600 total households, but importantly, our staff continually tracks the in progress applications, helping folks finish the application if they didn’t finish for some reason. Sometimes you have people who are unresponsive, so it’s not just a log in to the website and take care of it yourself. Our staff is really taking the responsibility seriously.
Almost $4 million has been paid out in full assistance from the city of Fort Worth and there’s approximately $50 million left to distribute across our Tarrant County area directly from the city of Fort Worth and in partnership with Tarrant County and Arlington, so those are important numbers. That’s made possible through the federal government, but your city staff got to work really quickly in cooperation to make sure we were meeting the needs of residents as quickly as possible.
Last week, U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., sent a letter to corporate landlords with the highest number of eviction filings asking them to redirect tenants to rent relief resources. Two of those corporate landlords, Tides Equities and S2, are among the top eviction filers in Tarrant County. Is the city encouraging landlords to apply for this same emergency rental assistance program?
So, yes, we’ve had a long-term relationship, not just during a pandemic, with the Tarrant County Apartment Association and our other larger property owners and landlords, of course working alongside (Fort Worth) Housing Solutions to have those partnerships. That’s important because I don’t think in Fort Worth we need some big letter to get a lot of publicity. I think what we can do is work at a grassroots level to help individual families, regardless of where they’re living and get them assistance to get them back on their feet and again, meet people where they are. So, you know, Mrs. Waters had a different tactic because she’s at a national level of politics. Here locally, we’re able to really work in individual neighborhoods and work alongside families.
And I think the other thing I’d point out is they created that website, getrenthelp.com. It’s a partnership with Arlington, Fort Worth and Tarrant County. It’s a one-stop shop for folks in our community to go and visit and find out what rental assistance looks like for them because, again, I just don’t think these large corporate letters are really going to get it done.
People need to pay their rent right now. We don’t want to kick the can down the road. We obviously don’t want to make a family go through the traumatizing impact of an eviction, so trying to help them receive the funds made possible by the coronavirus bills is this a tactic that we’re using.
The eviction moratorium ends on July 31, or that’s the latest date. What changes to eviction filings and the rental assistance program do you foresee happening after that point?
I don’t think we have to change anything. I think we’ve been prepared to watch the fighting back and forth happen and at the same time provide rental relief to our residents here. While it’s separate and apart from the eviction problem that we may have here in Fort Worth and really across the country, frankly, what I want us to do as the city is really refocus on affordable housing more broadly, working alongside multiple partners throughout our city to understand how to prevent some of these larger systemic problems from happening in the first place, but with the understanding that the pandemic was a very special set of tough circumstances.
And then, lastly, when the federal government made possible these relief efforts, it was our responsibility as a city government working alongside the county to disperse those funds as quickly as possible and get them in the hands of families that needed it, and I have full confidence not only have we done that, we continue to deliver on that promise and we still have funds left over to spend. So again, kudos to Victor Turner and the entire human services staff for stepping up in such a big way.
Remind me again: How much funding is there, and is there a deadline or a time by which the city wants to wrap that program up if it does?
Around $50 million. And I don’t know what the federal deadlines are, but we could get those to you. Staff has not expressed a concern as of right now about expending those funds within a deadline, and they’re usually pretty good about making sure we’re compliant with our grants and expenditure process, so as of right now I think we’re in good shape. And we just want families to get back on their feet as well as quickly as possible …
Great. Well, thank you for joining us again, mayor. Listeners, by now you should know the drill. If you have any questions you want us to ask the mayor or suggestions for community leaders we should have on, please reach out to us on our various social channels. Look for the story about evictions next week at fortworthreport.org and support our journalism by going to fortworthreport.org/donate.
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.