Judge Guillory launches new program to help reduce evictions in Port Arthur

Published 12:38 am Wednesday, March 8, 2023

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On Tuesday afternoon, two representatives of Palm Harbor Apartments sat in the Justice of the Peace Pct. 2 courtroom seeking eviction of two residents.

One was a man who hadn’t paid on his rent since November. The month prior, he had been issued a notice that his lease was expiring, raising his monthly rate from $985 to $1,235. And in February, he was issued a notice to vacate the premises.

And as of Tuesday, when Judge Joseph Guillory issued in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of $5,925, management had yet to hear from him.

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The second case was a woman entering hospice care. While she owed $3,305.76, her eviction was a necessary step in the process to move her into a long-term care facility.

But it was just two of the “too many” evictions Guillory said he has presided over since taking office in January.

Now, he’s partnering with Workforce Solutions Southeast Texas and a representative of Lamar State College Port Arthur to try and prevent evictions and helping Port Arthur residents find employment.

He calls it the Eviction Diversion Plan.

“I reached out to (Workforce Solutions) and that’s their expertise,” he said. “That’s what they do. They have all of the services. My responsibility is to connect the people to the services. Obviously these people that we are seeing are not aware of what’s available to them. Had they been made aware, maybe they wouldn’t be in the position that they’re in.”

He is also partnering with longtime colleague James Griffin, director of the CDL program at LSCPA.

“When he became judge, we decided to come together and work together in our positions to help the community,” Griffin said.

Both he and members of Workforce Solutions witnessed Tuesday’s eviction hearing.

One morning, Guillory said, he walked in the office to learn 25 eviction notices had been filed that day.

“It’s enough to get me where I’m feeling nauseated and wanting to see change,” he said. “After talking to some people and some of the citizens, they just need help. Some just need a little boost. Some just need a little direction. Hopefully in this capacity I’m able to direct them in that way.”

According to data from the Texas Workforce Commission, Texas has continued an upward tick in employment since the beginning of the year. However, in January, the Beaumont-Port Arthur area accounted for the second-highest unemployment rate at 8.5 percent.

Workforce Solutions, which has an office in Port Arthur, offers job searching as well as information on hiring events, career exploration, training, and veterans programs, among others things.

The Eviction Diversion Plan, Guillory said, is aimed at giving people hope.

“That’s the object of this — to get them back on track so they don’t face this type of situation again,” Guillory said.