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Government/Politics

Lone Bexar County Judge To Consider Eviction Hearings — Going Against CDC Recommendation

Deputy Constable Alex Chavez points to court papers filling the backseat of his patrol unit. The paperwork is from the Attorney Generals’ Office and is waiting to be served.
Brian Kirkpatrick
/
Texas Public Radio
File Photo: A Deputy Constable points to paper filings during a TPR ride-along in 2019. While District 3 will now consider eviction hearings, no other precinct in Bexar County currently plans to.

The Texas Organizing Project says the decision by Justice of the Peace Jeff Wentworth to hear eviction cases within Bexar County Precinct 3 will put residents in harm's way of COVID-19.

JP Jeff Wentworth.jfif
Provided
Justice of the Peace Jeff Wentworth will hear eviction cases within Bexar County Pct. 3.

Reports surfaced that Wentworth believes the recently extended moratorium by the Centers for Disease Control is unconstitutional. The JPs in the other three county
precincts, Justice Rogelio Lopez of Pct. 4, Roberto Vasquez of Pct. 2, and Robert Tejeda of Pct. 1 are following the extended moratorium until Oct. 3.

Many local residents are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads after jobs losses, a reduction in job hours, or a loss of jobless benefits during the pandemic.

"Our belief is that Judge Wentworth's decision to not honor the moratorium plays right into that and continues that disruption and that harm," said Marco Acuna, who sits on the housing justice committee of the Texas Organizing Project.

Bexar County is currently seeing a re-emergence of cases comparable to those of winter. Local hospitalizations hit 957 patients as of Thursday, and the rolling seven-day average of news cases was at 1,291.

Acuna said he does not like to see the debate framed solely around struggling residents, many of whom work in service industries. He said landlords receive payments from federal relief funds sent to cities and counties under the CARES Act. The White House on Friday urged cities and counties to rapidly push out those payments.

"It helps them just as much as it helps residents," he said. "You know the release of funds to be able to help people get caught up on their rent is something that trickles up to landlords, right? It helps them just as much as it helps residents."

A federal moratorium on evictions expired over the weekend, potentially putting millions of tenants at risk of eviction just as infections from the delta variant are on the rise.

Acuna said evictions jumped during the two-day lull after it was allowed to expire on July 31. Lines of people showed up at a housing assistance event on the day the first moratorium expired at Las Palmas Shopping Center on the West Side, hosted by Councilwomen Ana Sandoval and Teri Castillo. They represent some of the most economically challenged neighborhoods in the city.

Free legal advice was offered and cases workers offered assistance with relief forms.

Sandoval said then that the City of San Antonio still had around $50 million dollars in a fund set aside to include housing relief.

Property owners are battling the extended moratorium in federal court.

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