Advocacy groups warn that because it’s up to judges to determine whether to delay eviction cases, the program may not solve Virginia’s eviction issue.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s rent relief program is scheduled to go into effect on Monday, one day after the statewide freeze on evictions ends, which would leave thousands of Virginians at risk of losing their homes. However, some advocacy groups fear that this program won’t be enough.
Launched by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) will use $50 million in CARES Act funding to cover payments for applicants.
The DHCD states that the program is designed to support and ensure housing stability across the commonwealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. You may qualify for RMRP if any of these apply:
- You have been laid off.
- Your place of employment has closed.
- Your hours of work have been reduced.
- You must stay at home to care for children due to the closure of daycares or schools.
- You have lost child or spousal support.
- You have been unable to find employment due to COVID-19.
- You are unable/unwilling to participate in previous employment due to a high risk of severe illness due to COVID-19.
“I urge all landlords and lenders to partner with the state on this effort so that we can help families get current on their rental and mortgage payments,” Northam said in an interview with WRIC.
The governor has also called on local judges to help. In a letter to the chief general district court judges across the state, Northam asked courtrooms to delay hearing eviction cases until July 20 to allow tenants who need assistance time to apply.
However, advocacy groups warn that leaving this decision to the judges’ discretion may not solve Virginia’s eviction issue. The Legal Aid Justice Center stated that the only way to protect residents facing eviction is to extend the statewide eviction freeze.
“Rent relief cannot be rushed. Virginia must take time to hear from stakeholders and make sure the program provides meaningful and sustained relief to those who are most at risk of eviction and COVID-19,” said the center in a statement. “Meanwhile, tenants should not have to fear that the expiration of the Supreme Court’s order means homelessness is imminent.”
Northam has stated that the eviction moratorium extension was only a temporary measure to give the state time to put together the rent relief program.
Until July 20, the program will prioritize households with a gross income equal or below 50% of the area median income (AMI). Afterwards, priority will be given to households with an income equal or lower than 80% of AMI.