By: Nick Thomspon
With more than 27,000 people experiencing homelessness, millions of people at risk (or currently) facing eviction proceedings, and the pandemic raging on the Texas Legislature must take significant steps to address the housing needs of Texas communities.
During the 87th Texas Legislative Session, THN hopes to see a bipartisan effort to better care for those already experiencing homelessness and those at-risk of falling into homelessness. Texas communities do not have the luxury of time for partisan gridlock on our side to prevent more deaths on the street, from COVID-19, or the trauma of falling into homelessness and losing a home.
The 600,000+ households at risk of eviction need to be centered at the top of legislators’ priorities along with the budget and redistricting. The current federal moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent is set to expire at the end of January 2021. We are optimistic that the incoming presidential administration has proposed an extension of these policies but we know that any gap in eviction-related protections costs lives. In the 16 weeks last year that Texas renters were not protected from eviction, 148,530 cases of COVID-19 and 4,456 COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented with a uniform moratorium (Leifheit et al). A piecemeal solution of allowing cities to enact their own eviction moratoria will undoubtedly leave out millions of vulnerable Texans, particularly low-income communities of color.
The longer this recession drags on the more Texas residents will qualify for housing assistance. The case for Source of Income nondiscrimination protections to expand housing choice and access has never been stronger. We are encouraged by the introduction of bills on this topic both in the House and Senate and encourage housing providers across the state to join us in supporting these measures.
Texas’ Continuums of Care (CoCs), otherwise known as homeless crisis response systems, need significant buy-in from legislators to fully fund life-saving programs in the midst of an estimated $1 billion shortfall. This is not the time for housing and homelessness austerity. This funding, such as the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ Homeless Housing and Service Program (HHSP), is essential for COVID-19 response and prevention measures.
THN also urges TX legislators to analyze the systems that work in tandem to create larger barriers for people experiencing homelessness to secure housing. There are significant concerns relating to how homelessness, poverty, and illness continue to be criminalized under the current criminal justice system. Many think of a job as the solution to homelessness, but the hundreds (if not thousands) of employed people experiencing homelessness in our state would surely disagree. People working at the current minimum wage of $7.25/hour would need to work an average of 95 hours to afford a modest 1 bedroom home at Fair Market Rent according to the 2020 NLIHC Out of Reach Report.
To respond to all of these concerns, the Texas legislature needs to provide targeted, intersectional assistance to those being most affected by the current crisis, and the crises that existed before the pandemic. Some measures such as increased healthcare access in border communities, racial justice measures, mental health treatment diversion programs, trauma-informed policing, prohibiting housing discrimination for LGBTQ+ people, and increased ID access for people currently experiencing homelessness all speak to and address some of these urgent needs.
We are cautiously optimistic that Texas legislators will see these as opportunities for significant policy change and action.
Homelessness and poverty are policy choices, not personal failures. We hope that through this advocacy and the work of all of our partners across the state that we can make 2021 a better year than 2020.