The Texas law enforcement agency who served the eviction notice for a Houston family shown kicked out of their home on national television last week after losing their primary source of income during the coronavirus pandemic has since raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help that same family get back on their feet.
Last week, one Houston family received national attention after CNN ran a story breaking down how Deputy Bennie Gant of the Harris County Constable’s Office served eight court-ordered eviction notices in one day. The story showed Israel Rodriguez, 24, his wife and two children, ages 4 and 20 months, being evicted from their Houston-area apartment.
Rodriguez told CNN he was several hundred dollars behind on rent payments after losing his job amid the coronavirus pandemic. The family left behind most of their belongings, taking only children’s clothes and snacks in a stroller to a local hotel.
Harris County Constable Precinct One Foundation later set up a GoFundMe page to help support the family. It raised $228,340 in just four days. A separate GoFundMe page set up by former Houston teacher Patrick Tarnowski also raised more than $67,000.
“We care. We are compassionate. We are abiding by the guidelines,” Constable Alan Rosen said in a statement on the page. “It breaks our hearts to evict people. We hope the generosity demonstrated following this single story will begin a movement where we work together as a society that starts a discussion about poverty, prioritizes kindness, and encourages philanthropy.”
“It’s the best thing that could ever happen to me,” Rodriguez said about the outpouring of support.
According to the non-profit Aspen Institute, an estimated 30–40 million people in the United States could be at risk of eviction in the next several months. Last week, more than 200 eviction notices were served in Harris County – more than twice as much the county normally saw before the pandemic.
Last week, the White House announced it would ban evictions through the end of the year for tenants who are not able to pay rent because of the coronavirus pandemic. Following an Aug. 8 executive order by President Trump, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a temporary eviction moratorium and will impose penalties on landlords who violate the ban.
“A person violating this Order may be subject to a fine of no more than $100,000 if the violation does not result in a death or one year in jail, or both, or a fine of no more than $250,000 if the violation results in a death or one year in jail, or both, or as otherwise provided by law,” the CDC emergency order states. “An organization violating this Order may be subject to a fine of no more than $200,000 per event if the violation does not result in a death or $500,000 per event if the violation results in a death or as otherwise provided by law. … The U.S. Department of Justice may initiate court proceedings as appropriate seeking imposition of these criminal penalties.”
The Trump administration has faced pressure to prevent a wave of evictions during the election year since a federal moratorium and a $600-a-week unemployment stipend both lapsed at the end of July. The Aug. 8 executive order issued by Trump was intended to extend greater federal aid to reduce the number of evictions and foreclosures after the expiration of the CARES Act.
“The CARES Act imposed a temporary moratorium on evictions of certain renters subject to certain conditions. That moratorium has now expired, and there is a significant risk that this will set off an abnormally large wave of evictions,” the order states.
“With the failure of the Congress to act, my Administration must do all that it can to help vulnerable populations stay in their homes in the midst of this pandemic. Those who are dislocated from their homes may be unable to shelter in place and may have more difficulty maintaining a routine of social distancing. They will have to find alternative living arrangements, which may include a homeless shelter or a crowded family home, and may also require traveling to other States.
Fox News’ Julia Musto contributed to this report.