With many community members facing financial hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office is trying to keep residents in their homes amidst the struggles.
On Wednesday morning, the nonprofit Harris County Precinct 1 Foundation unveiled the pilot phase of its new pop-up eviction assistance program, which is aimed at providing legal resources to those facing evictions in Precinct 1.
“We wanted to come to the people instead of just hoping they come to the office. We wanted to come deep into the community and really get people,” Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen said. “There are a lot of people who need help and are suffering.”
Partners such as the South Texas College of Law and Lone Star Legal Aid are helping the foundation with the program, which would halt the eviction process through the end of the year. Lawyers were on hand Wednesday via three drive-through tents, where more than 100 pre-registered residents eventually drove up and talked through their case in a socially distant manner.
The aim, officials said, is to help those facing eviction fill out the appropriate paperwork to stay in their home and file it with both the landlord and court system. Legal experts will also assist landlords in navigating the eviction process under CDC guidelines.
“We are here to help people access the civil rights that have been given to them during the pandemic. Eviction is a public health crisis – it is not just a moral crisis that it has been for a long time,” said Eric Kwartler with South Texas College of Law. “We’re trying to keep everyone safe, and the best way to do that is to stop an eviction before it ever happens.”
Zip codes such as 77091 (Acres Homes) and 77092 (Greater Inwood) have seen the highest eviction rates during the pandemic, according to Rosen. And though Wednesday’s event was the first of its type in the area, he said the hope is to have future pop-up events in the precinct as time and funds allow.
Future eviction assistance events and resources will include mobile declaration clinics, zoom kiosks in community centers or churches as well as two hotlines where the public can get assistance in completing the necessary paperwork per CDC guidelines.
“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary efforts,” Precinct 1 Assistant Chief Carl Shaw said.
Funds for the assistance program, which Rosen said will be a “pay as you go” for the foundation depending on future events, came from a GoFundMe page set up by the foundation on Sept. 3 after hearing stories of increased evictions. According to Rosen, the page raised more than $248,000 in donations prior to Wednesday’s pilot.
To get more information on assistance, community members can contact Precinct 1 Chief of Staff Erica Davis at 832-286-3876.
“This was our way of trying to think creatively to find a way to be most impactful to a community that’s suffering right now,” Rosen said. “We’re here to help you get through some of the most difficult times in your lives.”