What happened in the 87th Texas legislative session?
By: Nick Thompson, THN Statewide Initiatives Manager
As the session began in January, we were hopeful that given the immense housing needs of Texans both prior to the pandemic and during COVID-19 that our legislators at the Texas State Capitol would meet the moment. Then a month into session, 151 people died as a result of an energy crisis that disproportionately hurt low-income, communities of color, and the unhoused the most. (Some estimates of winter storm-related deaths are at about 700 people). Unfortunately, we will never know the true number of people experiencing homelessness who perished during the winter storm or the continuing pandemic.
There were bills proposed by a number of legislators to prohibit source of income/voucher discrimination, prohibit housing discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, expand access to identification for people experiencing homelessness, require law enforcement to receive trauma informed care training, the George Floyd Act, centralize Texas’ homeless data systems, and so much more. None of these bills eventually passed.
Quickly it became apparent that a majority of legislators were not willing to listen to the facts surrounding homelessness and housing insecurity. Nor were they willing to pass any legislation to get at the root causes of homelessness, poverty, or housing insecurity. As a reminder to community members, legislators, and folks around the state:
- Housing first works.
- Housing status is not an indicator of violent crime.
- Criminalization is not a solution and elongates homelessness.
Instead what we saw is a majority of lawmakers from both major political parties coalesce behind a dangerous bill HB 1925 that would criminalize being unsheltered in the entire state. This was clearly an attack on the City of Austin and other metropolitan areas without camping bans in place. The bill was passed by both the house and senate and is awaiting Governor Abbott’s signature. This law will impact Black and brown communities the most, especially as it relates to increased interactions with law enforcement. You can view which legislators voted for and against the bill here.
Many, if not all, of these types of laws stem from incredibly racist and problematic roots. Controlling access to public space has a long history (and present reality) of colonial vagrancy and Jim Crow laws. HB 1925 is a continuation of racist, ineffective public policy priorities.
The one beneficial piece of legislation that came out of the 87th Legislative Session is HB 1278 which requires the Texas Interagency Council for the Homeless to hold one of their public hearings in a rural area.
On any given night, there are an estimated 27,000 people currently experiencing homelessness in Texas. Roughly 1 in 11 Texas renters (9.1%) are behind on their rent and have low confidence in their future ability to pay according to the most recent week’s (Week 30) results from the Census Pulse Survey. This is the third highest rate of housing insecurity in the country. Some landlords are refusing to accept rent relief and in many other cases are violating the CDC federal eviction moratorium that expires at the end of June.
THN would like to extend our gratitude to the few legislators who fought all session to expand housing opportunities and services, reduce criminalization, and fight on behalf of some of the most oppressed Texans.
THN will continue our fight for housing rights for every person in the State of Texas. This is not the end of our advocacy and community engagement.
Housing ends homelessness. Jail and fines do not.
THN’s President and CEO, Eric Samuels, and I recently held a webinar talking about this session. You can watch the recording of that here.