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Thousands in Dallas could end up homeless if eviction ban is lifted in January, lawyer says

A moratorium on residential evictions put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expires Dec. 31.

Lee Petty woke up Tuesday morning not sure how he’d pay the rent.

His $1,550 a month from social security just isn’t enough to cover rent and other living expenses. The stay-at-home computer work Petty once did has dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Petty trained as a contact tracer, but no job ever panned out. He fears working outside of his house due to health concerns.

“Hope springs eternal but I'm worried,” Petty said. “I have a son who lives in Seattle and he knows nothing about how close to the edge I am here.”

Petty is among the thousands of people in Dallas and elsewhere in North Texas facing the real prospect of eviction. A moratorium on residential evictions put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expires Dec. 31.

“The reality is we’re about to fall off a cliff on Jan. 1,” said Mark Melton, an attorney representing Petty and other tenants in similar situations. 

Melton estimates thousands of people could become newly homeless during the first quarter of 2021 in Dallas. 

A tax attorney by trade, Melton stumbled into pro bono eviction work early in the pandemic. He now heads about 150 attorneys working with Dallas Evictions 2020.

RELATED: These Dallas lawyers are standing up to landlords serving eviction notices

The group has provided free legal assistance to about 4,000 people.

“In this work, it’s part legal and a little bit of social work as well,” Melton told WFAA.

Melton says tenants fearing eviction can contact his group and a pro bono lawyer will be assigned to help them.  

He drafted a City of Dallas ordinance that gives residents 60 days to catch up on their rent.  Melton is now working with city, county and nonprofit leaders to come up with a plan in the event the CDC’s eviction moratorium is not extended.

Petty’s fears of eviction subsided at least for this month when Melton told him Tuesday he was able to secure the funds to pay his rent.

“I am so eternally grateful to him,” Petty said. “It buys me 30 days but it's not a lot of time in the overall scheme of things.”

If you’re looking for a good worker, Petty is ready and willing to work.

“I need a job,” he said. “Until I have a job, I'm not secure that I'm going to be here long for all.”