Lina Hidalgo quietly postponing Harris County foreclosures with executive orders

While Gov. Greg Abbott and state legislators have not moved to protect Texas homeowners struggling financially because of COVID-19,

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has been quietly postponing foreclosures through executive orders shutting down the facility where those auctions are held.

She has shut down the Bayou City Event Center on the first Tuesday of the month, the day foreclosure auctions must be held under state law, in at least five out of seven months since April. An order canceling October’s foreclosure auction was signed on Sept. 24.

“The county’s official position is that mass gatherings should not take place given the threat from COVID-19,” said Rafael Lemaitre, spokesperson for Hidalgo’s office, in an email. “As a reminder, the county is still at its highest threat level — red — meaning that the spread is still at too high a rate for us to advise residents to gather in groups.”

The move buys time for both homeowners and commercial landlords to reach a deal with their loan servicers before losing their properties. While the CARES Act passed by Congress in March allows homeowners with federally-backed mortgages to temporarily reduce or pause monthly payments, a process known as forbearance, data shows many are falling through the cracks.

More than 8 million homeowners are behind on their monthly mortgage payments, according to the most recent Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey; more than 1 million are at least 30 days late, according to data from real estate analytics company Black Knight. Homeowners can also lose their homes for failing to pay homeowners or condominium association owners dues.

Misconceptions, a lack of awareness and, in Houston, bad experiences with mortgage relief programs in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey have led to the pitfall, housing counselors said.

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