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Virginia legal group creates digital resources for those facing eviction

Crixell Matthews
VPM News File
Activists demand an end to evictions at a 2021 rally outside the temporary home of the Virginia State Senate.

Read the original story on the WHRO website.

Virginia is home to some of the most-evicting cities in the nation. More than 100,000 families face eviction each year in the commonwealth.

Phil Storey, a housing attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said that’s far too many for Legal Aid attorneys to help. It was even overwhelming for an attorney-staffed eviction hotline the VPLC ran from 2019 until 2023.

The problem is one of scale, Storey said.

An attorney, or even a group of attorneys, can only help so many people. So, using lessons learned from the hotline and resources developed to help people navigate eviction, VPLC has started the Eviction Defense Center.

“Court’s confusing, and it's intimidating for people who aren't there all the time. And so, sometimes people can feel like they just don't know how to participate,” Storey said., which is available in English and Spanish, includes breakdowns to help people read and understand eviction letters, and step-by-step explanations of the eviction process and court appearances.

“Hopefully, folks who shouldn’t be getting evicted or have a good defense can actually raise that defense and avoid eviction in court,” Storey said.

Evictions became a hot topic in Virginia when Princeton University’s Eviction Lab published data in 2018 showing some Hampton Roads cities, as well as Richmond, have high eviction rates compared to the rest of the country.

More recent data from the Eviction Lab shows high rates of eviction in places like Newport News and Virginia Beach.

Storey said Virginia’s eviction process moves more quickly than other states, typically taking weeks rather than months. But by arming families who don't have legal representation with knowledge, Storey said they can stave off eviction — or at least get a little more time and play a more active role in their fate.

“Slowing the process down for a couple of weeks can have a huge impact for somebody who's facing the choice of living in their car or, you know, having a little more time to find another place to land.”

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