Those who owe on their homes have an extra 31 days to plan. 

RICHMOND – Virginia’s emergency order expired this morning, removing protections against evictions. It’s not a time for families to panic, however. It’s a time to plan. Last week, the Biden administration agreed to extend a federal moratorium through the end of July. That gives Virginia residents a 31-day grace period of sorts to consider their options.

In Virginia, approximately 187,000 renters face possible eviction. Meanwhile, as many as 118,000 say they’re still not on their feet. As a result, they could lose their home within the next two months.

Per Olstad, senior advisor at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, broke down the number of Americans the housing crisis impacted.

“In terms of the populations we believe [are] at risk, it’s a little over 2 million people who have been in forbearance – as a result of a COVID hardship of some sort – for a long period of time,” Olstad said. “And long enough, we believe, that they likely don’t have a plan yet for how they will exit forbearance.” 

On the rental side, approximately 7 million people reported being at-risk for losing their home within the next two months.

According to Black Knight Financial Technology Solutions, the problem goes beyond eviction issues. Across the nation, landlords are seeing elevated levels of serious delinquent payments due to the pandemic. 

However, Richmond came in 41st out of 50 for markets with the lowest serious delinquency rate in the United States. The Virginia city experienced a 1.7% change from February 2020 to April 2021 at a change count of 5,100. 

That doesn’t mean all of them will be in trouble come August. 

“Just because someone is at-risk of eviction or at-risk of foreclosure doesn’t mean it will actually happen,” Olstad said. “So we don’t know. We can’t say definitively [that] they will be negatively impacted.”

The Powers at Play

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the eviction moratorium, that left some people confused.

Wouldn’t that fall more closely under the Department of Housing and Urban Development? Besides, it has the word “housing” as part of its title. 

Erinn Williams, press officer for the CDC News Media Branch, explained why the CDC took the lead.

“It’s outlined in the Eviction Order,” Williams said.

The order, § 70.2, places the power in the hands of the CDC director. He or she can take “reasonable measures” to prevent the spread of disease, in this case COVID-19. That includes inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination and destruction of animals or articles pertaining to infection sources.

Current law has several protections for renters. A court has to delay evictions by 60 days when a tenant shows COVID-19 caused their financial problems. That rule will remain in effect 90 days after the state of emergency expires.

Also tenants have 14 days – instead of the previous five days – to make a missed payment. As part of that law, landlords that own more than four rental dwelling units must offer a payment plan if they give notice. 

Barriers to Payment

The protections first went into place last year in response to Americans experiencing difficulty paying for housing. 

Even though the country started opening back up, 9.8 million Americans still face unemployment. In March, Virginians accounted for 214,676 of those out of work. 

While unemployment numbers remain high, the July 31 date looms for those at-risk for housing instability. 

“I think for the most part, people who have not been paying rent for a long time simply are doing so because they don’t have the income to do so,” Olstad said. “The economy has clearly started to recover, but it’s not consistent across the board, either geographically or, importantly, within different industries.”

Olstad noted that some of the biggest impacts occurred for lower income earners, with a disproportionate number of people of color and residents in rural communities impacted. 

“We’re very concerned about those, sort of, inequity issues,” Olstad said. “As the country is turning the corner on the pandemic overall, we’re going to focus on whatever we can do to provide an equitable recovery because there are different parts of the country, different revenue segments, industries that are much more severely impacted.”

In other circumstances, additional priorities took precedence over making the house payment.

“A lot of households, when faced with putting food on the table for their children or paying rent, they don’t have much of a choice,” Olstad said. 

Hope Remains As Virginia’s Emergency Order Expires

While the eviction moratorium is in place, so are other helpful options.

“There are federal programs that will remain in place and actually are increasing over time, the principles of them being the emergency rental assistance program that the Treasury is administering through state and local programs,” Olstad said.

Two funding packages – both the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan – made that possible. 

“Nationwide, the total’s about $46 billion in assistance available across the country,” Olstad said. “There’s an application process and the Treasury has granted out the money to several hundred programs across the country. I think it’s over 700 programs. Those programs have all basically been built from scratch when the process began in January.”

Olstad noted that all 50 states have a program up and running. 

“These programs are designed to provide assistance for renters, which means they’re also designed to provide assistance for the landlords from whom they rent,” Olstad said. “From our perspective, it seems to be the most important tool to helping renters who are struggling to make their rental payments.” 

Furthermore, simply because Virginia’s emergency order expired, that doesn’t mean all housing protections leave the state.

“Governor [Ralph] Northam has made affordable housing and eviction protections a top priority before and throughout this pandemic, and many protections are set to remain in place for weeks to years after the state of emergency ends,” said Amanda Love, associate director of human resources and communications at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development

What to Do

If you or someone you know faces eviction or foreclosure as Virginia’s emergency order ends, there’s approximately one month to get things in order.

“One of the core messages we’re trying to drive right now is that people who are in forbearance really do need to start engaging their servicer or talk to a housing counselor to arrive at a plan that is safe and appropriate for their situation,” Olstad said. 

For renters, Olstad also encouraged having an honest conversation with the landlord.

“We’re encouraging renters and landlords to talk to each other, to come to agreements around monthly payment agreements, to take advantage of rental assistance programs that are meant to, in part, make up for back rent, not just future rent challenges, help with paying utilities,” Olstad said.

Love also noted the importance of working together.

“State budget language requires landlords and tenants to work together to apply for rental assistance, requires landlords to put rental assistance information on a pay or quit notice and follow certain steps prior to an evictions filing for nonpayment of rent barring availability and tenant eligibility for rental assistance funds,” Love said. “This language is tied to the governor’s declared state of emergency which is scheduled to lift on June 30, 2021.”

The sooner the conversations happen, the quicker renters and homeowners can create a working plan.

“For those who receive rental assistance or get on a payment plan with their landlord and make timely payments, a landlord must mark a payment as current if the landlord reports missed payments to a credit reporting agency,” Love said. “This is in effect 120 days after the date on which the national emergency expires.”

Taking the Next Step

Protections for tenants for previous non-payments due to COVID-19 will last for 30 days after the end of Virginia’s emergency order. Negative action against rental applicants – based on non-payment of rent because of the pandemic – will remain in place for seven years after the state of emergency expires.

“Start the conversation,” Olstad said. “Find the rental assistance program in your area. Again, all 50 states now have a program up and running.” 

Olstad noted that the $46 billion will not automatically distribute. Renters must start the process, engage their landlord and find their local program. 

“In addition, Virginia has distributed over $240 million in rent relief funding throughout the pandemic, and this support will continue to be available to tenants and landlords who need it, even after the emergency lifts,” Love said. “The governor will continue to work with advocates and the legislature to ensure Virginians have access to safe, secure and affordable housing.”

The VDHCD offers many resources to assist with housing needs. Specific to the pandemic, the VDHCD implemented the $3.3 million Virginia Eviction Reduction Pilot and the Virginia Rent Relief Program

For more information and options pertaining to renters and homeowners unable to make their monthly payments due to COVID-19, visit Stay at Home Virginia

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com 

Want to read more stories like this? Sign Up for Dogwood’s free newsletter