Only 13% of defendants invoked the CDC eviction moratorium in Harris County

The CDC eviction moratorium was supposed to prevent evictions. When the CDC first announced the moratorium in September 2020, a CNN headline shouted Evictions Are Halted, noting that it “covered most renters across the US.”

The moratorium lasted almost eleven months. During that time, we found 3,289 cases where the policy delayed or prevented an eviction in Harris County.

That represents 13% of defendants.

As President Biden and members of Congress decide what comes next for renter relief, we need to take a close look at this policy.

Was the moratorium effective? Yes, for some people it provided a vital housing lifeline.

But it did not stop evictions generally. The CDC moratorium must be invoked, which means that defendants must fill out an affidavit and file it with the court.

In Harris County, only about 4% of defendants have an attorney. The need for help is much greater than the supply.

In our first roundup of the CDC eviction moratorium in February, we found that there were significant differences in the number of declarations by court. At that time, approximately 16% of defendants were protected by the CDC moratorium.

Shortly after we posted that roundup, the conditions surrounding the CDC eviction moratorium changed.

Between February 17 and March 31, the City of Houston provided a temporary grace period ordinance, pledging support for the CDC eviction moratorium and freeing up City personnel to assist renters with the declaration process. It's possible that this ordinance had a positive impact, but the difference isn't apparent in the data.

On April 1, the Texas Supreme Court eviscerated the moratorium by lifting provisions that guided how it was applied in Texas courts. At that point, the number of CDC declarations dropped considerably.

The CDC eviction moratorium limped to its conclusion this weekend, finally expiring on July 31. During peak periods from November through March, there were about 100 CDC declarations each week. By July, there were only 10 declarations per week.

The final roundup looks like this:

  • 25,258 eviction cases with a hearing between 9/4/20 and 7/31/21
  • 3,289 CDC declarations (13%)
    • 857 dismissals
    • 1,009 cases still active
    • 1,423 cases with a disposition, but the writ has been delayed

That means 2,432 households in Harris County lost their protections. Of those, 1,423 households may face imminent eviction as the constables begin executing writs, and 1,009 delayed cases will appear on the docket in the next few weeks.

That only gives government agencies and nonprofits a few weeks to deploy financial assistance and rent relief, or else thousands of people in Harris County will lose their homes.

Jeff Reichman

Jeff is passionate about data. He founded January Advisors and Sketch City, and serves on the board of the League of Women Voters of Houston. Read his full bio on LinkedIn.