Housing justice advocates expect evictions for unpaid rent to increase significantly in the Charlottesville area following the recent expiration of the last remaining COVID-19 eviction moratorium.
The moratorium was put in place in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention following a patchwork of similar moratoriums on both the state and national levels.
On June 24, President Joe Biden’s administration extended the nationwide CDC ban on evictions until July 31 to help millions of tenants unable to make rent payments during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement Thursday, the White House confirmed the moratorium would not be extended and said Biden would have liked to have extended the federal eviction moratorium due to the spread of the delta variant. Biden called on Congress “to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay,” according to The Associated Press.
By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the United States said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
One in three Virginia households is at least somewhat likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the survey.
Locally and throughout most of Virginia, an increase in total evictions has not been seen in large part because of the various moratoriums, according to attorney Caroline Klosko, of the Legal Aid Justice Center.
That is expected to change this week, Klosko said, as some people may get papers delivered to them from local sheriff’s offices if they’re behind on rent.
“Pretty much for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, people are going to be able to be put out for not paying rent, so we are expecting a big uptick locally,” Klosko said. “We think what’s going to happen is that filings are going to happen the first week of August and then our people are going to be served and we won’t really see a big uptick until next month.”
On July 20, the Charlottesville City Council appropriated more than $1.9 million in American Rescue Plan funds to various city and community programs, including $300,000 for an eviction prevention program in partnership with the Legal Aid Justice Center.
“Shelter is a basic human right,” said Jeff Jones in a statement on behalf of the LAJC following the allocation. “Safeguarding that right will require local, state and national action to expand access to affordable housing and to extend and expand legal protections for those facing homelessness or displacement.”
The LAJC program will provide free legal representation for tenants facing eviction but, contrary to some reporting, Klosko said the funding will not be enough to guarantee an attorney for everyone at risk of losing their home.
With the additional funding allocated by the city, Klosko said the LAJC has hired a few support staff positions and plans to hire an additional attorney to handle non-payment eviction cases. However, even with this additional staffing, she said the LAJC does not have the vast resources needed to handle every eviction case in Charlottesville.
“Because of our limited resources, there isn’t an expectation or obligation to take on every case that comes through our doors, so we select our cases based on merit,” she said. “By that we mean people who have legal defenses, and we do expect to be able to help more people who have legal defenses to non-payment of rent as a result of this funding.”
A similar funding request currently is being considered by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and, if approved, would allow for the program to run for three years, Klosko said.
Further complicating matters is the affordable housing issues plaguing Charlottesville before the pandemic, she said
“It’s really hard for somebody who qualifies for our services — someone who is making up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines — to find a place where they can afford to live,” she said. “So they end up renting places that they can’t afford to live in and so they can’t pay the rent, which is a huge problem. But that isn’t a legal defense.”
Another potential complication is the expiration of requirements for landlords to apply for rent relief programs on behalf of their tenants. Despite this expiration, Klosko said the rent relief funds are still there and the LAJC anticipates that a lot of landlords will choose to accept the money if tenants apply.
Rent relief programs have been continually cited as a helpful resource by groups such as the Virginia Apartment and Management Association, which represents more than 100 properties in the area.
In a recent news release, VAMA and the Apartment and Office Building Association pushed back against fears of an “eviction tsunami,” and cited data gathered from 105 respondent companies.
“Virginia’s housing providers continue to take steps to avoid the eviction process, not least by participating in Virginia’s Rent Relief Program,” the release said. “To assist members in accessing these relief funds, AOBA and VAMA have produced a step-by-step video explaining how to set up accounts with the [rent relief program] and begin helping their residents come current.”
Tenants looking for assistance may call the Legal Aid Justice Center at (434) 977-0553. Eligibility for rental assistance can be checked at dmz1.dhcd.virginia.gov/RMRPEligibility.