Gov. Ralph Northam announced $524 million in new federal funding to help cover rent.
ARLINGTON — A pandemic’s hard enough. Add housing concerns and that creates an even larger issue. On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced $524 million in new federal funding to help Virginia families keep their homes amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The recent federal stimulus package included the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP), funded through the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program. It will assist households and landlords with rent payments to avoid eviction.
Northam made the announcement at Gilliam Place Apartments, owned by the nonprofit organization Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have prioritized efforts to keep Virginians safely in their homes,” Northam said. “There continues to be an overwhelming need for additional relief to help those struggling to make ends meet. This new federal funding will provide an important lifeline to individuals and families, and bolster our ongoing work to address housing affordability in the commonwealth. I urge eligible households to act quickly and work with their landlords to seek rental assistance through this program.”
A Pressing Problem
The pandemic highlighted the number of families – especially in communities of color – one financial setback away from losing their home.
“Before the pandemic, a number of our localities had some of the highest rates of evictions in the country. We recognize that we have an eviction crisis in Virginia. And the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation,” Northam said. “So it is our priority to prevent evictions and help get financially distressed Virginians back on track with their rent payments. Making sure people have a safe, stable place to live is an important part of public health. And making sure that Virginians have better access to affordable and safe housing has always been a top priority for our administration.”
In June 2020, Virginia became one of the first states to implement a statewide rent relief program using federal CARES Act funds. When the state put the funds in place, a former relief option faced a quickly approaching deadline. Otherwise, thousands of Virginians faced imminent eviction.
Thanks to the CARES Act funding, $83.7 million helped individuals meet 24,294 rent and mortgage payment requirements. The governor noted that the majority of those households had children.
A New Solution
Virginia will immediately put $160 million into the RRP to increase housing stability across the Commonwealth. The state will make additional funding available based upon need. The Department of Housing and Community Development will administer the program.
“This new federal funding is exciting in several ways. One, it provides assistance for a longer period of time. Under the new federal funding, tenants may be eligible for help with unpaid rent going back to last April and up to three months of payments into the future for a total of 15 months of assistance. Two, I’m proud to say because Virginia stood up the Rent Relief Program last year, we were ready to put this federal assistance into the hands of struggling Virginians and their landlords,” Northam said. “I’m also proud that we enacted legislation last year that requires landlords and tenants to work together to apply for rental assistance before eviction for nonpayment can happen.”
Brian Ball, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade, also commented on the program.
“RRP is based on a unique, collaborative partnership between tenants and landlords to ensure both remain whole amid the pandemic,” Ball said. “Our priority remains keeping our families in stable housing while also ensuring landlords are receiving the payments they need.”
The rent relief program operating since last June will change, moving forward.
“Up until now, the program included helping people with their mortgage,” Northam said. “This new ERA funding does not include mortgage relief and our state program will no longer accept applications to help with mortgages.”
The governor noted that the majority of the applications were for rental assistance.
“One thing that won’t change is that the RRP, the rental relief program, will continue to operate with a racial equity lens,” Northam said. “We know the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate health and financial impact on persons of color. The RRP will work to ensure this funding assists households most in need by targeting outreach to communities of color and providing assistance to communities in which English is a second language. We continue to see an overwhelming need for financial assistance. The pandemic has not been easy on anyone, but it’s been devastating for a lot of people who are really struggling to keep a roof over their head.”
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Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Agriculture announced an extension of foreclosure and forbearance relief programs.
The decision extends the foreclosure moratorium for homeowners through June 30, 2021. It also extends the mortgage payment forbearance enrollment window until June 30, 2021 for borrowers who wish to request forbearance. It provides up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance, in three-month increments, for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30, 2020.
Last week, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will extend their foreclosure moratorium through March 31, 2021. Together, the actions taken by the Biden administration will cover 70% of existing single-family home mortgages.
Sen. Mark Warner also thanked the Biden administration for taking this step to help Virginia families.
“More than 10 million homeowners are currently behind on their mortgage payments, and one in five renters is behind on their rent. Communities of color in particular are being disproportionately hurt by the ongoing health, economic and housing crises,” Warner said. “I’ve been fighting in Congress to help Americans in danger of losing their homes, and I applaud the Biden administration for taking this step to help those who are struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Chesterfield County and Fairfax County will operate their own ERA-funded rent relief programs for their residents. Virginia tenants outside Chesterfield and Fairfax Counties may reach out to their landlords for the quickest path to rental assistance. To submit a landlord-initiated application, visit virginiahousing.com/rentrelief. Virginia law requires landlords to work with their tenant to apply for this assistance.
Tenants interested in applying should check their eligibility by completing the self-assessment at dhcd.virginia.gov/eligibility or by dialing 2-1-1 from their phones.
Current state and federal eviction protections through the courts do not prevent rent payments from accumulating.
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]