When the CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, tenants living in federally-backed properties across the U.S. were promised protection from eviction for 120 days. In San Antonio, city officials estimated 4,542 properties, or 125,996 units, are protected under the mandate.
However, time is up.
Today marks the expiration of the CARES Act protections. After today, in order to file for an eviction, landlords of federally-backed properties must issue a 30-day notice to vacate, which is the first step in the eviction process before tenant and landlord appear in court. Under Texas law, for properties not backed by the U.S. government, renters are given a three-day notice to vacate before a landlord files a lawsuit.
Until now, the CARES Act applied to roughly half the renters in San Antonio, city officials estimate. Around mid-June, local justice of the peace courts began hearing eviction cases for the other half—those living in non-federally-backed properties—after the Texas moratorium ended in late May.
Experts now fear many more renters are expected to become uprooted in the coming weeks and months given that there are no eviction protections at any level of government—at least, in Bexar County.
Eviction totals in Bexar County have trended upward of late toward their pre-Covid-19 totals, but haven't quite hit them yet.
Source: Bexar County Justice of the Peace
It's unclear what powers local officials have. In Travis County, for example, a moratorium on evictions that was also due to expire Saturday was extended through Sept. 30.
Through an open records request to Bexar County, the Heron acquired a database of all evictions filed locally between March 27 and June 30. This showed a total of 1,373 evictions filed by landlords during that time. The city's Neighborhood and Housing Services Department (NHSD) provided a list of properties protected under the CARES Act, which was compiled to create a searchable map for public use.
An analysis of the data shows 72 eviction cases were started for tenants who should have been protected under the CARES Act.
These cases were split across 41 properties scattered throughout the city, and 21 cases came from just four apartment complexes:
» Ingram Ranch Apartments—2400 Oak Hill Road (NW), four evictions
» Lincoln Village—1700 Jackson Keller Road (far NS), nine evictions
» Marigold Apartments—2303 Goliad Road (SE), four evictions
» The Barcelona Lofts—6201 Grissom Road (far NW), four evictions
Of the 41 properties for which these evictions were filed, 34 were funded by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Federal Housing Administration loans, meaning the property owner receives mortgage assistance from the federal government. The remaining seven received low-income housing tax credits or were public housing properties.
For the past four months, landlords at these properties have been prohibited from “making, or causing to be made, any filing with the court of jurisdiction to initiate a legal action to recover possession of a rental unit from the tenant for nonpayment of rent or other fees or charges,” according to the City of San Antonio’s COVID-19 website. On May 14, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order declaring that when an eviction is filed, the landlord must provide an affidavit stating that their property is not subject to the CARES Act moratorium.
So how were 72 evictions filed for properties that should have been protected?
Genevieve Hébert Fajardo, clinical professor of law at St. Mary University’s Center for Legal and Social Justice, has been assisting with a housing legal advice hotline run by the St. Mary School of Law, nonprofit Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and the University of Texas School of Law.
"Not all the judges have been enforcing that requirement, nor do I think all the plaintiffs necessarily know about that requirement, like that they have to plead that my property is not covered by the CARES Act," Fajardo said.
While the CARES Act has been in effect since March 27, the Texas Supreme Court's eviction moratorium order was made roughly 45 days later, on May 14. While the affidavit didn’t have to be included in the lawsuit, the property was still under the protection of the CARES Act. “Anyone who filed before May 14 would not know about that order,” said Fajardo. Eighteen of the 72 eviction lawsuits were filed on or before May 14.
Even for properties that are protected, Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Roberto “Robbie” A. Vazquez said, “lawsuits can be filed, they just can’t be heard.”
Most landlords know that their cases won’t be heard until September after the CARES Act expires, but choose to file anyway, while some have chosen not to file yet, Vazquez explained.
Fajardo noted that there’s no geographic trend to the tenants who have been reaching out to the housing legal advice hotline.
“The trend I have seen is, ‘I have lost my job,’ or, ‘My hours have been dramatically reduced due to Covid, I cannot afford my rent, I don’t know what to do'," Fajardo said. She added that most people seeking assistance were fine before the pandemic hit in March.
“We check everyone who calls in (to the hotline) for whether they have a CARES Act property... And the vast majority of the evictions that have been filed are actually not CARES Act properties,” she said.
Kimberly Arispe, director of Family Service, an empowerment center on the West Side offering a variety of social services, said her financial empowerment center is seeing between 90-100 clients a week who are struggling to pay rent. Roughly 80% of those clients have rents that are 2-3 months past due, Arispe said.
"Our families are going to need a lot of money infused and a lot of support to make it through the crisis," Arispe said. "They were already on the edge and now they've been pushed over the edge. ... I don't know where all this funding is going to come from, but it makes me very nervous."
The City of San Antonio is leading the effort to curb displacement through its Covid-19 emergency housing assistance program, which formally launched in late April.
So far, $31.9 million has been spent or committed to helping families pay rent or their mortgages, or other living expenses, during the pandemic. Overall, the City Council earmarked $51.6 million for the program from federal and city funding sources.
The number of household aided by the program surpassed 10,000 this week. A total of 16,399 applications have been received.
[ For more info, visit the Covid-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program dashboard or read our report, "Nearly $30M helping San Antonians stay housed during Covid-19, new online dashboard shows" for more info. ]
Many housing experts and advocates fear the fund will be depleted before the pandemic is over—especially since the CARES Act expiration is expected to boost eviction lawsuits in San Antonio and throughout the country.
Others aren't so sure.
“I know that we’re not gonna crank up evictions just because the CARES Act expired,” Vasquez said. After the Texas Supreme Court orders to halt evictions ended on May 18, it took the courts about four weeks to begin hearing eviction cases again, he said. Vazquez expects a similar delay after the CARES Act.
Under the CARES Act, courts can start hearing cases again on Aug. 24, but with Congress in negotiations about a second stimulus plan, Vazquez believes an extension of the moratorium could be imminent.
Fajardo expects eviction filings to pick up after the CARES Act expires on Saturday, but also noted that the city’s rent assistance program has been helpful in reducing the number of evictions.
“I think some evictions are happening, but we’ve been able to avoid some by getting rent assistance to people and being able to work out agreements with landlords,” she said. “I think as soon as the money runs out, we are going to have a real crisis.”
Veronica Soto, director of NHSD, which is running the program, told the Housing Commission this week she's concerned about the potential rise in evictions starting tomorrow. She said a new city policy, in which landlords must provide tenants a "notice of tenant's rights" when they give a notice to vacate, will help mitigate eviction cases. That ordinance, passed by the City Council in late June, takes effect starting Saturday.
The city's current version of the housing assistance program is a much more robust version than the antecedent passed March 2019 to help with San Antonio's housing crisis. In April, it was augmented to meet the needs of the Covid-19 crisis.
"Our program, as far as I can tell, is the largest in the nation," Soto said. "We were also the first one out the door. We are the one that is still continuing to take applications. Almost everyone else who launched the program already closed the applications, did a lottery or are barely launching the program."
"We are very concerned about evictions, potentially more homelessness, but we're trying to make sure the recovery and resilience plan mitigates and addresses those issues," Soto said.
"It might not be enough. It is expensive."
» Nearly $30M helping San Antonians stay housed, new online dashboard shows
» For some renters, housing assistance from city taking more than a month to receive
» Gov. Greg Abbott orders Texans in most counties to wear masks in public
» San Antonio landlords now obligated to inform tenants of rights
» Downtown economy struggles to return to the new norm, much less the normal norm
» Property owners asked to file appraisal protests online amid Covid-19
» City Council narrowly rejects proposal to give renters 60 extra days to pay overdue rent
» San Antonio Housing Authority chips in $350K for rental assistance
» A commission of renters? In San Antonio, the debate rages early on
» Landlords asked to forgive 25% rent for tenants impacted by coronavirus
» Looking back: The week downtown San Antonio became a ghost town
Heron Editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report.
A cluster of buildings on the near West Side, on land less than a block long, have been given the OK by the city's historic review board to be designated as a historic district.
The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center initiated the designation, which the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) unanimously approved last week, on three parcels the group owns on South Colorado Street between Guadalupe and El Paso streets. In recent years, the community organization has rehabbed some of the 11 structures on the site, the majority of which date back to the 1930s, dubbing it Rinconcito de Esperanza as a hub for West Side history, culture and arts.
"Our buildings, our history, our people matter, and are as worthy of historic protection as any other area of San Antonio," Graciela Sanchez, director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, told the commission during the video conferenced meeting. The designation must also be approved by the Zoning Commission and the City Council.
In order to create a historic district in San Antonio, 51% of property owners within the area must be in favor of it.
Earlier this year, Esperanza Peace and Justice Center workers began going door to door to garner the support needed to establish a historic district on the West Side. They sought to create a district that stretched from Zarzamora to Colorado streets and from Guadalupe to West César E. Chávez streets. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“For a long time now we've been wanting a historic district on the West Side,” said Sarah Gould, director of the Museo del Westside, a project of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center that's located within the proposed district's boundaries.
In 1986, a proposal to create a historic district in the area was removed from the City Council agenda at the last minute and was never revisited, Gould said recently.
While the pandemic put a pause on the larger historic district, the Esperanza center opted to start small on land it already owns. San Antonio’s municipal code only requires a historic district to include a minimum of two structures.
The Rinconcito de Esperanza has 11 structures on three parcels of land. These are located at 812 S. Colorado St., 816 S. Colorado St., and 1024 El Paso St. The building clusters serve as a reminder when working-class families built multiple structures on a single lot to make ends meet, according to the Esperanza.
The lot at 1024 El Paso St. houses seven residential properties, including a shotgun house and a folk Victorian home built in 1906. At 816 S. Colorado St. sits another folk Victorian home called Casa de Cuentos, which has served as a home, a grocery store, and three different dry cleaning businesses. In 2001, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center purchased the house and began using it as a community gathering space. The former Ruben’s Ice House, slated to be rehabbed into the Museo del Westside, is also located on this land. Built in 2017, the newest structure is the MujerArtes Adobe Studio, where a group of women artists work and put on exhibitions.
According to city preservationists, the proposed district more than meets the criteria for historic district designation: its significance as a visible exemplar of the community's cultural heritage, its recognition as a home to businesses and organizations that have contributed to the development of the community, and its distinctive identity and value, exemplified by the work that the Rinconcito de Esperanza has done to preserve the “intangible heritage of the Westside community in which it is embedded,” according to the application submitted to the HDRC.
Aside from preserving cultural heritage, historic districts in San Antonio also provide owners with tax breaks.
The city of San Antonio offers a 20% tax exemption on city property taxes over 10 years as long as the property owner lives on the property. If the owner substantially rehabilitates the property, they become eligible to choose one of two "substantial rehabilitation" tax incentives. According to the Office of Historic Preservation, substantial rehabilitation requires effort to “prolong the life of the building,” including exterior or interior work. Because this is expected to raise the value of the property, the two options for tax incentives are to have the property taxes set for 10 years at their pre-rehabilitated value, or to pay no property taxes for the first five years, followed by only 50% of the post-rehabilitated assessed value for the next five years.
If the Esperanza can establish a historic district on its own land, Gould believes they can use it to promote expansion in the future. "That way we can at least say, there is now a historic district on the West Side. It is possible, let's make it bigger," she said. "This is the starting point."
Heron Editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report.
On Monday, a second week of demonstrations against police brutality began across the nation. In San Antonio, protestors gathered at Blue Star Arts Complex south of downtown for a silent march to La Villita and Hemisfair. At Blue Star, Young Ambitious Activists, the organizers of this and many other local protests, stressed to supporters the day’s theme was love, family, and community.
Organizer Anthony Sanchez encouraged attendees to take selfies with fellow marchers. Lexi Qaiyyim, another organizer, opened the “people’s protests,” a time for demonstrators to share their stories with the crowd, by reading Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” Officer Douglas Greene was then invited to speak to the crowd. “I walked up here, and I was received with love,” Greene said to 2,000 demonstrators assembled at Blue Star. “If we can protest together, we can dream together.”
It was the 10th consecutive day of marching in downtown San Antonio following the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police two weeks ago.
Those who spoke in the people’s protest echoed the organizers’ calls for unity and community. Dustin Castro, 35, emphasized the importance of building community and connecting with people of different backgrounds. “The younger generations are part of a new generation of humanity, where it’s no longer tribalistic, it’s no longer divisive, it’s no longer us versus them,” he said. “We’re also connected. We’re also inspired. We’re also motivated.”
Staci Wilson, 22, told the crowd to think beyond George Floyd when they march.
“I want y’all to remember what y’all are marching for,” she said. “You’re not only marching for yourself, you’re not only marching for your friends. You’re not only marching for your families, or just for George Floyd. You’re marching for everybody.”
Just before the march began, U.S. Rep. Joaquin and former Mayor Julián Castro arrived to speak to the crowd. “I want to say how proud I am to see everybody here,” Joaquin Castro said. After speaking about the history of police brutality in America, he said, “What I think you should be asking every elected official, from the president to the members of Congress to the City Council members to the county commissioners to the state legislators, is, ‘Are you gonna act?’ ” He cited his record in Congress of advocating against H.R. 1154, a bill in the U.S. House that would allow police unions across the country to engage in collective bargaining.
Julián Castro spoke about his work on the presidential campaign trail in the past year, stating that his campaign was the only one to put forward a stand-alone policy on policing.
“We want an America that lives up to his highest ideals, where no matter who you are, you’re treated fairly and your life is not snuffed out because of bigotry,” he said.
Monday’s protest followed a different route than last week’s marches. After leaving Blue Star Arts Complex, the crowd walked through the King William Historic District to La Villita. Last week’s protests were held at Public Safety Headquarters at South Santa Rosa Avenue, with marches to the Bexar County Courthouse and Travis Park. Dito Mendoza, 21, a member of Young Ambitious Activists, said their goal was to “bring (the movement) to new parts of the city.” He said the new route offered views of the Tower of the Americas and the River Walk, which brought a distinctly San Antonio energy to the protest.
Along the route, demonstrators were encouraged to be silent, but to hold their signs up high. “Put your signs up,” Qaiyyim told people as she passed them. “They can’t hear us, but they’re gonna see us today.”
At Arneson River Theatre, the throng of demonstrators filed in. Organizer Trevor Taylor led the crowd in chanting the names of two black men who were killed by SAPD officers in recent years: Charles Roundtree Jr. and Marquise Jones. Now that four Minneapolis officers have been charged in Floyd’s murder, the focus of the protests have shifted to police reform and justice for all victims of police brutality, including explicit calls in San Antonio for justice for Roundtree and Jones. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales has said he has no plans to reopen those cases.
After leaving La Villita, the march continued to the Torch of Friendship and then Hemisfair, where demonstrators convened on the grass for another round of the people’s protest. Members of the Krishna Temple were there to serve free food to all attendees.