Tarrant County officials have allocated millions in emergency relief before a national moratorium ends this month, but those at risk of losing their homes far outnumber renters receiving help, records show.
About 500 renters financially affected by COVID-19 received emergency rental assistance in June across Tarrant County, U.S. Treasury Department records show.
Landlords filed nearly 1,200 eviction cases in the same time period, according to court records analyzed by the Fort Worth Report and Stateline, a nonprofit news outlet funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Three out of the five top eviction filers in Tarrant County were from out of state; one of them, Tides Waterfront, is on a national list of top eviction filers during the pandemic.
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said the city has delivered on its promise to aid tenants who need rental assistance and said nothing needs to change to prepare for the lifting of the Centers for Disease Control moratorium July 31. Arlington Mayor Jim Ross said his city finds it difficult to distribute rent relief to tenants who do not submit completed applications.
“We work with both apartment complexes, we work with our county and with the city of Fort Worth to help those people in need,” Ross said. “The problem we get a lot of times is that when you get a bunch of applications that come in, it is often the case that the applications are incomplete and unable to get processed.”
Michael Carroll, the director of the Economic Research Group and University of North Texas economics professor, said the number of evictions should concern everyone.
“There are more ripple effects than most people realize well beyond the transaction between the renter and the landlord,” Carroll said.
When evictions happen, landlords do not have income coming in from rent so renovations, construction and improvements cannot take place at properties, Carroll said. This takes jobs away from construction workers, Carroll added.
“A loss of income means a cutback on spending, so anybody on the retail side will see a loss,” Carroll said.
Slow to help
Congress allocated $46 billion in two Emergency Rental Assistance packages approved in December 2020 and March 2021. Tarrant County, Fort Worth and Arlington, the three localities tasked with distributing rental assistance money across the county, received $63.9 million in the first package and $45.9 million in the second package.
As of June 30, the three localities had allocated about $4.4 million in relief to more than 800 households, U.S. Treasury Department records show.
More than 30,000 households owe about $96 million in back-rent in Tarrant County, according to the latest U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey data analyzed by the National Equity Atlas, a data and policy tool maintained by the University of Southern California Equity Research Institute and the research firm PolicyLink.
While not all evictions filings were attributed to rent arrears, there were 1,186 eviction filings in June, according to court records analyzed by the Report and Stateline. Sixty-three percent of those filings were won by the landlord or plaintiff filing on their behalf. The majority of these cases, 515, were won by default judgment, meaning the defendant, or tenant, did not show up for court.
Property owners sometimes use eviction filings as a way to force unresponsive tenants to apply for rental assistance or to work out a payment plan. After an eviction is filed, a tenant and property owners must go before a justice of the peace in their precinct and argue the civil case.
If a case goes to the property owner or if the property owner receives a default judgment, the justice of the peace sets a date for a writ of possession. On that date, a property owner can file for a constable to force the tenants out and have their belongings removed from the property.
In June, eviction cases took an average of 15 working days from filing to judgment. Most writ-of-possessions were scheduled two weeks after the final hearing. Constables processed 457 writ-of-possessions in June, according to county records provided by Stateline.
A total of 269 cases filed in June were dismissed. This means the plaintiff who filed the case either did not show up to court, the parties involved came up with an agreement or settlement outside of court or the judge decided the case could not proceed for various reasons which include the standing CDC order.
More than 1 out of 3, or 470, eviction cases filed in Tarrant County, were for tenants living in Fort Worth, which was the city with the fourth most eviction filings out of 31 cities tracked by Eviction Lab.
Mayor Parker said the city’s Neighborhood Services Department has initiated more than 8,700 rental assistance applications. The Neighborhood Services Department in Fort Worth oversees housing and the administration of state and federally funded social services programs, including the Emergency Rental Assistance program. The department works in partnership with the city of Arlington and Tarrant County officials to help distribute the rental assistance funds.
In Arlington, there have been roughly 170 payouts totaling around $860,000 of the $21.5 million federal rent relief funds the city received. Arlington officials send letters listing rent relief programs to tenants who need assistance.
“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,” Parker said.
Ross was not aware of any plans to change outreach efforts after the moratorium was lifted July 31, he said.
Renter households are supposed to be protected by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order, which runs through July 31 and prevents landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment. The federal order slowed evictions, but filings in many states and localities, including Tarrant County, never stopped.
At least 15,000 evictions have been filed in Tarrant County since March 15, 2020, according to the Eviction Lab. Eviction filings for the month of June were about 60% below the historical average reported by Eviction Lab.
Las Lomas Apartment Homes in Arlington, based out of West Hollywood, California, was the top eviction filer this past month. Estela Rodriguez, assistant manager at the property, said the company halted eviction filings in March 2020 but resumed in May 2021 because tenants who fell behind on rent were not applying for help.
Court records show Las Lomas filed 10 eviction cases in May and 28 in June. Las Lomas filed 56 more evictions this month, Rodriguez said. Later, Rodriguez said, the company has again halted filing evictions and is now registering tenants for rental assistance.
Tides Waterfront, a Los Angeles, California company, was the runner-up for June’s top eviction filers in Tarrant County with 21 cases. Tides Waterfront was named in a letter sent to 33 of the nation’s largest corporate landlords and top eviction filers during the pandemic by Chairwoman of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services Maxine Waters.
“Given what is at stake, I call on you to halt these harmful and unjust practices and instead work to connect your tenants to the emergency rental assistance that I worked to obtain in cooperation with your industry trade associations, tenant advocates and low-income housing advocates, and other stakeholders across the housing spectrum,” wrote Waters, a Democrat from California and one of the nation’s top housing advocates.
Tides Waterfront did not return multiple requests for comment.
Central Park Apartments, LLC., out of Florida, was third out of the top five eviction filers in Tarrant County with 16 eviction filings in June, followed by Jaxon Luxury Apartments, LLC., of Delaware with 12 filings and 444 Equinox LP from Dallas with 10 new eviction cases filed in June. Jaxon Luxury Apartments, LLC., officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Montecito Club Apartment Homes, a Central Park Apartments, LLC, property, provided residents a list of “nonprofits and charities that assist with rental assistance, promote rent relief programs offered by the government and work with residents on payment plans,” said Humberto Cubillos, management at Montecito Club, via email.
Equinox Apartments property manager Elizabeth Gomez said staff went above and beyond to provide tenants with assistance. The apartments had a program that waived up to 50% of a renter’s owed payments; the property received over $160,000 in federal rent relief funds from the city and county.
“We’re doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that people do not end up homeless,” Gomez said. Evicting “is the last thing we want to do. It impacts their lives and their futures. We want to keep these people around.”
Kristian Hernández of Stateline contributed to this report.
Cristian ArguetaSoto is a photojournalist for the Fort Worth Report. His position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter.