Fort Worth, Texas has seen eviction filings reach levels higher than those prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new nationwide eviction data. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University reports that more than 3,800 evictions were filed in February 2023 – a shocking 36% higher than pre-pandemic monthly averages. These rates are not expected to decrease anytime soon, warns Adam Chapnik, a research specialist at Eviction Lab. Landlords are filing on tenants at rates unprecedented before the pandemic as individuals who fell behind on rent have fallen even further behind.
The end of nationwide eviction moratoriums in August 2021 and the conclusion of rental assistance in Texas in late 2021 have further exacerbated the issue. Vulnerable tenants such as single mothers and renters of color are facing additional pressure amid a rising cost of living across the state. “If they’re working a minimum wage job, they’re not going to have the kinds of savings for an emergency and if an emergency happens, they might fall behind on rent,” explains Chapnik.
Texas had over 70,000 applications submitted within the first 24 hours of the rental assistance program set up to avoid eviction, causing its rent relief portal closed two weeks early. Meanwhile, the city of Fort Worth’s rent assistance portal has also closed since running out of funds. “The rent relief program was killed by its own success in many ways. There just wasn’t enough money to go around… We keep hoping that there will be more funding available but right now, the climate doesn’t look like that’s going to happen,” says Jim Ince, an attorney who specializes in housing with Legal Aid Northwest Texas.
Fort Worth had more eviction filings than Austin and Dallas in February 2023, with Houston, the state’s largest city, ranked highest at over 6,400 filings for the same period. Eviction filings do not necessarily mean that an individual or family will be thrown out, but more filings mean more potential evictions, Chapnik says. However, a filing is a black mark on a tenant’s record, even if the case is dismissed or the tenant wins. The impact of the filing is already being felt as people like 68-year-old Ida Bright, whose rent was raised and incurred late fees, consider moving, despite the eviction proceeding still being pending.
Some legislators have made efforts to offer more protections against evictions, including providing more time to pay rent and sealing some eviction records. But efforts to prevent such protections have also been made, including House Bill 2035 and Senate Bill 986, which would prevent cities from being able to regulate evictions. Legal Aid’s Ince says that while some bills have been filed to assist renters facing evictions, “the numbers are going up and the solutions are going down”. Urgent measures are needed to address the crisis, warns Ben Martin, research director with Texas Housers, a nonprofit organisation that advocates for initiatives that support low-income Texans.