Harris County and the city of Houston have launched a joint task force designed to address a local housing crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and energy industry downturn. Officials announced the 24 community members named to the Housing Stability Task Force on June 24.

This joint effort is led by Harris County and city of Houston Recovery Czars Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, and Marvin Odum, respectively, according to a press release. Members will recommend ways city and county officials can respond to the housing crisis, with special attention paid to low-income residents and communities of color.

On June 23, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University released its State of Housing in Harris County and Houston report, which lists several challenges the region is facing, including a decrease in affordable housing options for renters.

“The affordability once associated with the Houston region was disappearing even before we began to grapple with the one-two punch of economic and public health crises,” Kinder Institute Director Bill Fulton said in a statement. “The issue of evictions does not exist in a vacuum. Evictions have a cascade effect that extends beyond the housing system, affecting the health and future of our community.”

The Houston Housing Stability Task Force will be co-chaired by Harris County Justice of the Peace Jeremy Brown and civic lead Ric Campo of Camden Property Trust. Additional members include the following.

  • John Boriack (Veritas Equity Management)

  • Mark Thiele (Houston Housing Authority)

  • Maria Verdeja (Harris County Community Services Department)

  • Dana Karni (Lone Star Legal Aid)

  • Tom McCasland (Houston Housing and Community Development Department)

  • Courtney Johnson Rose (George E. Johnson Properties)

  • Zoe Middleton (Texas Housers)

  • Chrishelle Palay (HOME Coalition)

  • Claudia Aguirre (Baker Ripley)

  • Alan Watkins (Wells Fargo)

  • Celesté Arredondo-Peterson (Texas Organizing Project)

  • Marcia Johnson (Thurgood Marshall School of Law)

  • Mary Lawler (Avenue CDC)

  • Guadalupe Fernandez (Tahirih Justice Center)

  • Lori Pampilo Harris (Houston Housing Collaborative)

  • Jay Malone (Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation)

  • Jeff Reichman (January Advisors)

  • Diana Zarzuelo (Greater Houston Community Foundation)

  • Cynthia N. Colbert (Catholic Charities)

  • Margaret Oser (United Way)

  • Ana Rausch (Coalition for the Homeless)

  • Howard Bookstaff (Hoover Slovacek)

Officials said the recent economic downturn has not only affected renters but property owners as well. The task force will focus on eviction prevention, mitigating effects on tenants and landlords and stabilizing households for the benefit of public health, according to the press release.

“An eviction can have wide-ranging, long-term financial and psychological consequences, and the problem is much greater than we realize in Harris County,” HHSTF Member Jeff Reichman said. “Judge Brown brought needed attention to this issue by prioritizing eviction diversion in his own courtroom, and city and county leaders have used their respective bully pulpits to extend relief and delay proceedings. We have the data—the next logical step is bringing together key stakeholders to shape meaningful policy recommendations.”