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As demand for help increases, evictions resume in Lubbock

Sarah Self-Walbrick/Texas Tech Public Media
Seats are marked for social distancing in Judge Aurora Hernandez's courtroom at the Lubbock County Courthouse.

It is almost the first of the month. Rent is due - and in Texas, evictions can resume after a two-month halt due to the economic effects of coronavirus.


The Texas Supreme Court lifted the eviction suspension in mid-May. Some tenants are protected by the federal CARES Actthrough August. Others are facing a financial problem. 

More than 15,000 people in Lubbock are estimated to be out of work right now, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, affecting their ability to pay bills. Around 45% of Lubbockites rent their home at a median gross rent of $912, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. 


Over the two-month hold, Lubbock County Precinct 3 Judge Aurora Hernandez said about 60 evictions were paused. Over 30 more have come in since May 19. 


"We're talking roughly 100 that are in limbo right now," Hernandez said. 


That will likely increase. 


"There are so many people who've lost their jobs," the judge said. "It's going to be worse than it normally is."


The judge’s court has had to adapt hearing processes to adhere to social distancing.


Visitors at the Lubbock County Courthouse have their temperature checked after going through security. On pews in the hall and inside the courtroom, blue painters' tape and signs mark where people should and shouldn't sit. A clear plexiglass shield with a slot in the middle blocks the door to Hernandez's office. Ask the person at the front desk for help and they'll come to you. 



“Normally on a day when we wouldn’t have this pandemic on us, we would have the courtroom packed," Hernandez said. "Well, we can’t have that. My courtroom holds 33 people. Current setup is for eight or nine.”


Hernandez said eviction hearings will resume June 2, either over the phone or Zoom. In-person, these hearings go quickly. She’s scheduling each virtual hearing for 30 minutes to allow for potential technical problems.  

The past two months have required adjustments.


“We were getting phone calls such as angry landlords saying ‘Well, I have to pay my mortage, too.’ I said ‘We’re sorry, this is the law. There’s nothing we can do. Our hands are tied,'" Hernandez said. "Then we would get tenants who would say, ‘Well, does that I mean I don’t have to pay them.’ No. You’ll have to go get legal advice, we can’t advise you. But eventually you’re going to have to pay them.” 


Financial assistance is limited, but available, in Lubbock. The Salvation Army of Lubbock can help some.  


“We will be assisting with $500 towards rent or mortgage and $150 for utility assistance," said Erica Hitt. 


“In order to qualify for something like this, you've got to be able to show us that you’ve been affected some way, somehow by COVID-19.”


Hitt, social services director at the nonprofit, said demand for rent and utility assistance has gone up during the pandemic. They used to get about 25 calls a day asking for help. Now they get between 80 and 100. 


Initial funds were quidckly depleted. Hitt said about 245 people have received rent assistance from the Salvation Army during the pandemic. 


She’s worried about June. 


“For the most part, a lot of them (landlords) are being a little more lenient, allowing a little more time for those people who were furloughed or reduction of hours," Hitt said. "That is great, however they have to make money, too. I don’t think this leniency will last much longer.” 


“I think more into June is when we might see an influx of people needing to get into the shelter.” 


The City of Lubbock Community Development Department is also offering emergency rental assistance, using block grant frunds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tenants must prove they have been financially impacted by COVID-19 to qualify and cannot receive any other form of rental assistance. 


To apply for the City of Lubbock's rent assistance, visit the city's website. For the Salvation Army's assistance, call 806-766-9434.

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