Richmond tackles city's eviction crisis with new grant
By Sean Galvin
September 18, 2019

Facing the second-highest eviction rates in the United States, Richmond is taking proactive steps to fight the city’s eviction crisis.

Richmond’s City Council last week approved a $485,140 grant to Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), a nonprofit fair housing organization. The grant will allow HOME to pay up to 50% of overdue rent for families facing possible eviction, while also helping families set up payment plans for the balance, if their landlords agree.

HOME will also provide families with financial counseling and other resources, according to the Richmond Free Press.

To qualify for HOME’s program, recipients can have only two late payments in the previous six months, or three late payments in the past 12 months. In addition, participants must pay 25% of back rent when their case comes to court, pay off the remaining amount in 90 days, and keep up with the current month’s rent.

While the grants will ultimately be able to help a small percentage of renters in the city, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney told ABC 8 News they would “do everything that we can to ensure that residents don’t fall through the crack.”

Most of Richmond’s evictions are for non-payment of rent, some for balances as low at $15.78, and landlords have removed one-in-nine renter households in the city, according to a study from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. That number is significantly higher than the national average of 1-in-50.

While the eviction crisis is particularly dire in Richmond, it is by no means the only city in Virginia dealing with the issue. Five of the ten cities with the highest eviction rates in the country are in Virginia, with Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake joining Richmond in the top ten.

There’s no one cause for the crisis, but the state’s low minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and lack of strong tenant rights exacerbate the crisis, as does a court system that typically favors property owners.

Eviction can have a ripple effect on tenants’ lives too, as some families also lose their food stamps and Medicaid benefits when they lose a permanent address. Many residents also find it difficult to fill out job applications when they don’t have anything to write in the address portion of the application.

Some Richmond Public School students have also been forced into homeless shelters, which then requires the school system to modify bus routes to meet the children’s transportation needs.

“An eviction isn’t one problem,” Amy Woolard, a lawyer and the policy coordinator at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond told the New York Times. “It’s like 12 problems.“

Virginia has taken some initial steps to address the issue and Gov. Ralph Northam has made affordable housing a linchpin of his administration. In 2018, he announced an executive order aimed at confronting Virginia’s “unmet housing needs” and signed seven bills in 2019 aimed at addressing the state’s housing issues.

If the Eviction Lab’s findings are any indication, however, more remains to be done. The study found that nearly half of all renter households in Virginia are “housing cost burdened,” meaning that they pay more than 30% of their incomes for housing.

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