Harris County Commissioner Lesley Briones led an investment of $1,091,100 in federal American Rescue Plan Funding (ARPA) to reduce the backlog of eviction appeals cases in Harris County. This measure was passed today with a unanimous vote, and will cover the cost of an associate judge and coordinator to staff an eviction appeal docket through 2026.
This investment is critical because eviction filings and appeals in Harris County have increased since the pandemic, and time to disposition for appealed cases is now approximately 63 days, compared to 40 days in 2019. The Harris County Civil Courts at Law have seen a significant uptick in eviction appeals over the past two years, with eviction appeals forecasted to be double pre-pandemic filings.
Depending on the method of appeal, a tenant must pay at least one month of rent and continue paying at the usual rate (often monthly) into the registry of the County Civil Court. If they are unable to pay, possession of the unit may be immediately obtained by the landlord.
Thus, the longer the wait time for a case to be resolved, the higher the financial strain and risk of homelessness for the tenant, and the greater the business impact for the landlord. Plus, the uptick and delays in these evictions cases negatively impact the thousands of parties who have other types of civil cases on these courts’ dockets (e.g., personal injury, breach of contract, fraud, or eminent domain cases, among others).
“We must help tenants and landlords (and all litigants) receive their day in court as promptly as possible,“ Commissioner Lesley Briones said. “As a former judge and as a current commissioner, it is of paramount importance to me that we are providing government services as fairly, efficiently, and equitably as possible. I am proud that this investment will help reduce delays and lessen emotional and financial distress for Harris County tenants and other litigants.”
The Texas Eviction Diversion Program, which concluded on July 1, 2023, permitted tenants to temporarily halt their eviction while seeking rental assistance.
Even before the program ended, however, evictions in Harris County began to increase due to dwindling rental aid funds and an increase in landlords rejecting rental assistance programs.
This latest investment approved by Harris County Commissioners Court complements its previous investments into eviction support services. Commissioners Court approved eviction legal aid ARPA funds in the amounts of $1 million in 2022 and an additional $4 million in March 2023. These funds have been used to pay for legal aid attorneys to attend dockets in eight Justice of the Peace Courts and provide pro bono representation at no cost to tenants. Additionally, $172 million were received by Harris County in Emergency Rental Assistance. Collaborating with the City of Houston, the, Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program disbursed over $323 million.