In hopes of avoiding a new wave of homelessness plaguing Harris County—which is already in the midst of a global pandemic and skyrocketing unemployment claims—Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo have requested all justices of the peace countywide to postpone eviction hearings until late August.

While the Texas Supreme Court's 15th Emergency Order issued May 14 allowed residential eviction proceedings to resume statewide beginning May 19 following a two-month hiatus, the order does not require those proceedings to resume. Instead, the order authorizes each judge to modify or suspend deadlines and procedures until as late as Sept. 30 at his or her own discretion.

"We have worked hard to urge residents to stay at home and social distance as much as possible. But without a home to go to, families cannot social distance and we place many more at risk to their health," Hidalgo and Turner wrote in a June 3 statement to Judge Eric William Carter, the Harris County justice of the peace for Precinct 1, Place 1. "We remain very concerned that pursuing eviction proceedings will contribute to a wave of homelessness that would be catastrophic to the health and safety of the families involved and of the community at large."

In addition, at the federal level the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act established a temporary eviction moratorium for housing with federally backed mortgages as well as some low-income housing, which is not set to expire until July 25. As landlords must provide tenants with a 30-day notice to vacate the property before taking action, this means eviction proceedings for tenants protected under the CARES Act cannot take place until Aug. 24 at the earliest. However, only 509 properties in Harris County are covered under the federal provision.

"As Harris County Judge and Mayor of the City of Houston, we urge you to use your discretion to extend to your cases the same allowances for tenants that are under the CARES Act," the statement reads. "Within your discretion, we call on you to formally commit to postponing evictions hearings filed after March 27 until Aug. 24, in line with the CARES Act timeline. Doing so is not only the right thing to do given the current crises, but will contribute to our effort to protect public health and eliminate confusion surrounding the Federal eviction moratorium."

Hany Khalil, the executive director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, lauded the action as area unions, too, renewed their call for Harris County justices of the peace to suspend eviction proceedings through July 24.

"Thank you Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner for joining calls from unions and housing advocates for an eviction moratorium in Harris County," Khalil said in a statement. "Our justices of the peace have the constitutional authority to delay eviction proceedings, and the moral responsibility to ensure no one loses their home because of COVID-19.”

The request comes the same day Hidalgo and Turner were expected to announce the formation of an Eviction Prevention & Housing Stability Task Force dedicated to helping families avoid eviction while addressing long-term barriers to affordable housing. The announcement, however, has since been postponed until further notice.