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Legal Aid Group Says Eviction Helpline Slow To Start, But Working To Curb Some Evictions

Richmond townhomes

A new  hotlinefor tenants seeking legal help for a possible eviction has helped about 130 tenants since the beginning of the year. Legal aid attorneys say they’ve found about a quarter of those cases have a strong legal defense to fight the eviction.

The Virginia Poverty Law Center rolled out the helpline at the beginning of the year to combat Virginia’s  notoriously high eviction rate. Tenants rarely have an attorney to advise them when they get a notice from their landlord that they’ve violated their lease agreement or have failed to pay their rent.

And yet studies show they’re more likely to avoid an eviction if they can get legal advice before the eviction process even begins. That advice could include informing tenants of their rights and whether there’s room for them to negotiate with a landlord.

Phil Storey is an attorney who runs the helpline with a small handful of volunteers. He said the service could reach more people with more volunteers and financial support. But he said he’s confident it’s already putting a dent in the problem.

“I want to be realistic,” Storey said. “It’s a big problem and these are good steps. And hopefully we can show as time goes on, the value of the services we’re providing and we can expand those.”

About 80% of calls to the helpline are tenants in Central Virginia. Callers are 82% female and 74% African American. On average, those who call are spending 50% of their income on rent, which Storey said is way too high.

“It’s easy for me to focus on the legal reasons, but there’s also just not enough affordable housing,” Storey said.

The Eviction Helpline is coupled with a new legal aid office housed in Richmond Circuit Court to help tenants who are further along in the eviction process.



Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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