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Officials Call For Hamilton County Judges To Recognize New CDC Eviction Moratorium

Jolene Almendarez
Mark Lawson, CEO and President of the Community Action Agency, said, "We have $47 million still left to expend on behalf of tenants. The county has another $30-plus million. No one should be evicted for non-payment of rent while we all have this much money waiting to help landlords and tenants."

Hamilton County judges decided this afternoon the new eviction moratorium has "no binding authority in Hamilton County." Eviction cases for non-payment of rent are set to resume as scheduled.

Updated Thursday at 4:04 p.m. : Hamilton County judges decided this afternoon the new eviction moratorium has "no binding authority in Hamilton County." Eviction cases for non-payment of rent are set to resume as scheduled.

A new CDC eviction moratorium extends relief until Oct. 4 in areas with high spread rates of COVID-19, but Hamilton County residents might not see any relief. Officials and community leaders gathered in front of the county courthouse Thursday morning with two main messages for the judges.

"Number one, if you are a tenant or a landlord, there is still millions of dollars available for emergency rental assistance and utilities assistance available to you right now," said Aftab Pureval, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts. "And number two, we together strongly urge the court to honor the CDC moratorium. In the middle of a pandemic -- and yes, we are still in the middle of this pandemic -- it is just wrong to evict people."

Pureval said there were 58 families being protected by the moratorium at the end of July and 40 of those are scheduled to be in eviction court this week. Yesterday, 32 eviction cases were heard and 31 of those defendants were evicted, he said.

Assistant Court Administrator Andrew Gillen said after the news conference no people protected by the moratorium have been evicted since the new moratorium was issued because judges haven't decided whether they'll recognize the legality of it, yet. They're meeting about the issue Thursday afternoon.

A previous iteration of the CDC eviction moratorium blocked people from being evicted if they could prove they'd lost income due to the pandemic and tried to receive monetary assistance for rent, among other requirements. It was challenged in court and Hamilton County judges opted to not recognize the legality of the moratorium for about six weeks. But a Supreme Court ruling demanded the eviction protections stay in place throughout the country until the end of July.

Meanwhile, local agencies have received millions of dollars from the federal government to help people pay rent and utilities. But giving people the funds was initially a time-laden process.

"I would say, pre-pandemic, we would have allocated $250,000 for rental assistance. And now we have upwards of $70 million. So, we have $47 million or so left," said Mark Lawson, CEO and President of the Community Action Agency in Cincinnati.

The agency hired more people to process applications faster and, so far, it has helped about 5,000 families pay their bills.

In Hamilton County, Jobs & Family Services have spent about $4 million in federal assistance helping 8,000 families pay their rent and utilities.

Commissioner Denise Driehaus said, "So the need is great, the dollars are there. The access point is what we are working on. And so, with this moratorium that has come down through the CDC, it provides us ample time to provide those dollars to the renters, to the landlords to keep people in their homes, I am just hopeful that the courts see their way to honor the moratorium to give us that extra time to provide help to the residents in Hamilton County."

She said the county still has about $36 million left to help people and the waiting time to receive funds averages about 10 days.

In addition to the rent and utility help available to renters, there are also outreach efforts underway to connect people with the resources they need.

Alicia Reece, Hamilton County Commission vice president, said the 513 Relief Bus hosts clinics to help people apply for any kind of assistance they need, whether that's rent, medical care, food or childcare. And she said she'll soon be handing out business cards with all the information people need to apply for rental assistance.

"We need to have all hands on-deck to make this happen. We need to make sure that wherever you go any community that you go to, that you let them know about the relief that's available, I refuse to leave any money on the table," Reece said.

In the meantime, an entire list of services can be found at 513relief.org.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.