Evictions court has started again, despite record unemployment and an economy still struggling to rebound.
As eviction protections are lifted across the commonwealth, advocates are saying there isn’t enough funding to reach everyone in need of rent relief.
The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP), launched by Gov. Ralph Northam one month ago, was set up as the statewide rent moratorium ended. But advocates say an executive order to extend the rent freeze is still needed.
According to reports from WAVY, the governor said that an extension would be a “legally difficult” move and would likely be ineffective.
After the state eviction protections ended, Northam put the decision to hold eviction hearings in the hands of local courts, encouraging judges to defer. Unfortunately, many of them haven’t.
There have been 12,267 eviction hearings held since June 22 according to data from the Legal Aid Justice Center. Nearly 1,800 families have already lost their homes. The Centers’ data shows that 10,000 hearings are scheduled for the next eight weeks.
Even before the pandemic, stable and affordable housing has been a problem in the commonwealth. In 2016, Richmond had the second highest rates of eviction in the country. On a national level, there are only 22 counties out of 3,000 where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a one bedroom apartment at fair market prices. There are zero counties where they’d be able to afford a two bedroom apartment.
New Virginia Majority organizing director Thomas Assefa stated that many of their members were also having trouble getting access to relief funds.
“I wish I could tell you good news about the program,” Assefa said to WAVY. Language barriers and long turn around times are some of the problems that members have faced during the application process according to Assefa.
New Virginia Majority is calling for the state government to create a 24-hour multilingual hot line to aid members applying for grants. The group is also calling for grantees to respond to applicants and process payments in a quicker fashion.