JP Marc DeRouen: Local program helps COVID-impacted renters avoid eviction

Published 12:36 am Friday, October 8, 2021

Evictions, Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 Marc DeRouen said, have been the hardest part of his job — especially since the start of COVID-19.

“The eviction cases are tough. They’re always tough,” he said while speaking Thursday to the Port Arthur Rotary Club. “Evictions were always something I battled with from Day 1…You’re basically telling someone that they have seven days to get out of their home. They won’t have a roof over their head unless they have some other arrangements.”

DeRouen, who was voted into office in 2010, was speaking to the crowd on the duties of being a Justice of the Peace.

“A lot of people — including myself when I was elected — do not realize what all Justices of the Peace do across the state of Texas, what their job involvement is and the scope of the office itself,” he said.

Those duties include criminal dockets that mainly revolve around class C misdemeanor cases, civil dockets, debt claims and small claims cases.

But the evictions, he stressed, are never easy.

“Through COVID, evictions didn’t stop,” he said. “The federal government decided…we’re going to cease evictions for a certain length of time. Which we did. Which I was all in support of stopping the eviction process. It’s a necessary thing but in this situation I felt that it needed to be paused.”

The process has since resumed.

But a program that is federally funded and available specifically to Jefferson County residents could help save tenants and landlords, whose jobs have been affected either directly or indirectly by the pandemic.

The Texas Emergency Rental Assistance Program “provides rental assistance to income-eligible households impacted by COVID-19 to help them stay housed during the pandemic,” according to information from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

While federally funded, the program is handled through the office of the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission.

And it’s faster, more user-friendly, and easier to access than previously proposed federal housing programs.

“(It’s) here out of Jefferson County,” he said. “It’s local. It’s managed out of Beaumont. They will come to Port Arthur, they will meet with individuals. You can sit down face-to-face with someone.”

The program will help renters with payments dating back 12 months and forward for 3 months. There’s an additional application for those needing assistance with utilities.

Learning of the program has made such an impact that on Wednesday a tenant and landlord in court for an eviction case learned of the program and stopped the suit in order to see if they could find assistance and a resolution by applying.

“If you know someone who is having problems and looking at eviction, please contact my office,” he told Rotarians. “(A link to the program) is on the Jefferson County website on my page. We have the flyers there on the front desk. I can hand those out at every trial trying to postpone evictions if at all possible. And I think that’s something our community needs to be concerned with and something I take very seriously.”

At the end of the meeting, DeRouen announced that he would seek re-election next year.