Evictions Slowed to a Trickle During the Pandemic. Republicans Want Them Back.

A slew of local laws passed during the pandemic slowed the avalanche of evictions around the country. Bankrolled by real-estate interests, Republicans want to restart kicking families out of their homes.

Republicans are using their power to block local communities from slowing down mass evictions. (Lynn Friedman / Flickr)

Republicans who run the Texas state government recently extended a $10 billion corporate subsidy program while cutting 1.3 million jobless workers off federal unemployment benefits. Now, they are using their power to block local communities from slowing down mass evictions — which would be a huge jackpot for the real estate industry that has dumped more than $14 million into the state’s most recent elections.

This weekend, Republican lawmakers — who often tout the importance of “local control”rammed a bill through the state senate that preempts the enforcement of local laws designed to protect tenants. The bill declares that “a municipality or county may not adopt or enforce an ordinance, order or other regulation that delays, prohibits, or restricts the execution” of an eviction or “has the effect of causing financial damages to a landlord.”

The legislation came a few weeks after eviction protections were extended in Austin, where the eviction rate has been among the lowest in the state and the country. It also follows the Koch-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation leading a legal battle in Texas to overturn the federal COVID-19 pandemic eviction moratorium.

The measure was pushed by the GOP, but it passed with only one Democrat voting in opposition. For the bill to become law, it still must be signed by Texas Republican governor Greg Abbott.

The preemption language was spearheaded by GOP senator Drew Springer, who has raked in more than $150,000 of campaign cash from the real estate industry, according to data compiled by the National Institute On Money in Politics.

That cash haul was part of a larger flood of real estate money that has been bankrolling Texas Republicans. In the last election cycle alone, real estate industry donors dumped more than $1.2 million into GOP party committees in Texas.

Much of the money came in the form of six-figure checks from real estate moguls to the Associated Republicans of Texas — a group that describes itself as “committed to maintaining the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature.” Among the group’s biggest donors were Harlan Crow and Woody Hunt, whose real estate empires include residential rental properties.

Texas is hardly alone in using state power to block local communities from protecting tenants. The Urban Institute recently reported that “thirty-three states have passed preemption laws that prevent local governments from adopting some type of affordable housing policy or tenant protection.”

Most recently, Indiana Republicans overrode their Republican governor’s veto and passed a law barring their state’s biggest city from regulating landlords. The Indianapolis Star noted that “Indianapolis will no longer be able to require landlords to provide renters with a list of their rights, prohibit discrimination against applicants for housing-based criminal convictions or hold retaliatory landlords accountable with fines.”