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Community-based solutions to Virginia’s eviction crisis

Two women in chairs talking to each other in a TV studio. Woman on left is wearing a red blazer and woman on the right is in a grey blazer.
Elijah Hedrick
VPM News Focal Point
(L-R) Charvalla West, Interim CEO of the United Way of the Virginia Peninsula talks to VPM News Focal Point anchor, Angie Miles

Charvalla West, Interim CEO of the United Way of the Virginia Peninsula discusses a pilot program that helps families avoid eviction and move out of poverty. 


ANGIE MILES: Many cities across Virginia are dealing with a shortage of available affordable rental homes and renters who can't keep up with the increasing cost do sometimes face eviction. Charvalla West is the interim CEO of the United Way of the Virginia Peninsula, which runs the peninsula eviction reduction program. Thank you so much for joining us, Charvalla.

CHARVALLA WEST: Thank you for having me.

So, I'd like to actually start by talking a little bit about public housing because it has really been evolving. We're seeing across the state and across the nation, housing authorities moving away from what was thought of as traditional public housing, and moving towards partnerships, mixed income, mixed use developments, with services, more on site for renters, and for families, health care services, childcare services, sometimes food, grocery stores, that sort of thing. How does that impact your work at the United Way, and your efforts to help people find pathways out of poverty?

I think it's a heavy lift for any community that's considering the work of revitalizing public housing, I think it's necessary to ensure that everyone has a safe home in a safe neighborhood that they can afford. I think there are a lot of benefits to having more integrated communities where there's not a concentration of poverty, I think we've seen the consequences of that. But it is complicated, and it is hard for the families who have to find other means, other places to call home in the in between time. We've been very fortunate to participate with our local housing authorities and their partners, as folks are finding their way through this process over the last few years. And we are hopeful, but it's really going to take all of us supporting these families along the way to make sure that they do find the stability we all intend for them to have in the end.

So no matter how grand the vision is, there's likely to be some bumpiness along the way, right to get to that vision. And you've just touched on what one of the issues is here. As these developments are revitalized, remodeled, sometimes demolished in order to build something new, those residents have to go somewhere. And there are a number of programs in place to help them to relocate temporarily. But that doesn't seem to be perfect. Right. Some of them don't come back to public housing, or don't choose to. Some of them may want to, but maybe they're not enough units. Again, how does that intersect with what you're doing at the United Way?

So I think it's important to recognize that sometimes when this happened, we're taking people out of their neighborhoods, sometimes their generational neighborhood, where they have lived and their families have lived for a very long time. And there's an adjustment that has to happen. It also changes - what is available to a family where maybe I could walk to the grocery store before or to the corner store that may not be an option, maybe changes in schools, for children who are going to and from different neighborhoods. And then once the housing is rebuilt, to have a more diverse income community means that there are less units there for people who had lived there before. So it's there is some choice in that, of course, as people decide to stay or come back. And so wherever they are, we need to make sure that they have access to the resources that can stabilize them during the transition. And most importantly, once that project is complete, are all of the folks who live there before going to be okay?

Of course, everyone is hoping for the best outcomes, but we also have to prepare for or mitigate against some of the worst outcomes. And that is one of the things that you do. We understand that typically, or consistently rather, on the list of top evicting cities in America in the top 10, five of those tend to be Virginia cities. So five Virginia cities out of 10 nationwide, are in the top tier of cities that evict people you uniquely have a program to help mitigate evictions. Talk about that program.

So two of those top 10 cities are right on the Virginia Peninsula, Newport News and Hampton. The Virginia Peninsula is nine cities and counties and it's very diverse from more urban areas like Newport News and Hampton to more suburban areas like the Greater Williamsburg area and even some rural parts in Gloucester and Matthews. And what we have found over the last four years of administering the first ever Peninsula eviction reduction pilot, is that the landscape for housing has changed. And so how we respond to housing instability and eviction has to change with it. One of the things that we've been able to do through this pilot is really address the system in which all of us are navigating housing stability.

There are programs and have been programs, particularly through the pandemic that provided financial assistance, and temporary relief. And what we saw once those programs ended, is that evictions increased to the same levels, they were pre pandemic, if not higher. At the same time, the cost of rental housing has increased in some areas more than 40% of what it was just two years ago. And so how we as a community respond to that has to look differently than it did pre pandemic.

So what we've done at United Way is we administer this pilot on behalf of the entire community. And we engage partners from the sheriff's department who have to execute evictions, our local judges and attorneys, landlords, tenants, the nonprofit and human services community, all of us are working together to look at what we can do differently, to help stabilize folks who are struggling to pay their rent. One of the ways we do that, at United Way is we provide an advocacy and referral service called the Community Assistance Network. It provides access to more than 150 partners across our community who are working to keep people housed, make sure they have basic needs, and provide some other stabilization supports.

So whether you live in Newport News and work in Hampton, or work in Williamsburg, and live in Newport News, you have one phone number that you can call to access all that's available to you all that you're eligible for. And because most of the families who are renting, facing eviction are also working. We do the legwork on behalf of those families. So instead of here's a list of phone numbers to call, our team of advocates actually makes the the calls for you, we connect with those partners, we provide the information they need, so that you only have to tell that story one time. And then we take all of the resources in our community that are available, we put them together to help stabilize that family.

In addition to that, we provide an eviction court navigation service that puts a human in the courtroom. So when you're missing time, from work to come to a courtroom, and you're afraid and don't quite understand all the legal jargon. There's a human there who can say this is what this means for you and your family. Here are your rights, here are your options. And here's how the community can help you. We've been able to do that not just with tenants, but some of the landlords as well, we've also been able to improve how we look at housing instability, and not just measuring the number of filings or unlawful detainers. But also looking at the number of people who are actually losing their housing. And then from there measuring the effectiveness of our interventions to keep people housed once they are facing that unlawful detainer.

An unlawful detainer you want to clarify is not the equivalent of an eviction, it's the first step.

That's correct. So many tenants receive the notice that I have to go to court, because I'm behind on my rent and feel there's no recourse. But that's only the first step, showing up to court can make a huge difference. Talking to the landlord can make a huge difference. And many residents and tenants don't realize that they can do that, or maybe they're afraid to and that's where the eviction court navigation services. And the advocacy services that we provide really can make a huge difference.

And it's good to hear that you have people from all sides of the issue, joining forces in partnership, it's hard to believe that anyone delights in eviction that anyone prefers that people would rather be paid their landlords, people would rather not have to serve notices if they're in law enforcement. People would rather have stable housing, if they're having difficulty. And it's good that you're addressing all of those different areas, who is the most likely person to receive an unlawful detainer notice and be put on that path to eviction or maybe evicted?

So I do want to respond first to your your statement. If we think about eviction as a traumatic event, being behind on your rent or not receiving as stress, the amount of toxic stress and trauma that's impacting so many people that you just mentioned in our community, really is making a difference in how we show up every day. And so it's really important that we recognize that we're talking about people's lives, we're talking about children who are trying to go to school and get off the school bus at a place that they call home. And so to answer your question, the two highest indicators for eviction are race and the presence of children in any community across the country, you will find that the most likely to be evicted are single mothers of color with children. So when we talk about educational outcomes, when we talk about health outcomes, when we talk about community safety, we have to start by talking about stabilizing housing for people who need us. And

Certainly it would be women of color who are single parents as much as anyone needing security and stability in housing. Your program is uniquely serving the peninsula. And you mentioned Hampton and Newport News, who are on the list, the top 10 cities for evictions, pretty consistently. Also, we should mention Richmond, Norfolk, and Chesapeake, Richmond, Norfolk and Chesapeake are also on that list. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all of Virginia if not all of the country, but if all of Virginia had access to resources, such as what you were providing? Is that starting to happen, perhaps.

So we're hopeful. And I think it's important to recognize that this is we're in our fourth year of the pilot. And not only can we talk about the number of people we've been able to help, which is phenomenal, we've been able to serve over 8000 people in less than four years through this pilot. But we can see the outcomes of the the work that we're doing as a community, we can see that in communities that work together, we can stabilize housing, even when there is an unlawful detainer filing. And while we are grateful for the support from the Department of Housing and Community Development, to start and support this work, we've been able to leverage that with resources that were already in existence in our community. And so with that we've shared with the Virginia Housing Commission, and United Way's of Virginia, that through Resource Connection through advocacy and referral, every community has a local United Way that can mobilize these resources in your respective community to make a huge difference, okay, because

This conversation could go on forever. How can people find out more about what you offer and how they might actually start a similar program where they are?

So the Department of Housing and Community Development lists information around eviction reduction, as well as other resources on the Virginia Peninsula? United Way is a phone call away. Or of course, you can go to our website

Okay, thank you so much for this enlightening conversation and for the good work that you're doing to help people. We appreciate you.

It's been truly a pleasure. All right.

Charvalla West, thank you for joining us.


For Peninsula residents:

Call the United Way Community Assistance Network (CAN), 757-229-222

For Virginia Residents:

Eviction Resources across the state,

Resource Connection for Virginia Residents,


Angie Miles, Host/Producer, anchors and hosts VPM News Focal Point and special broadcasts.
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