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Report Highlights Gaps In Richmond’s Response To Eviction Crisis

Law students Talya Lockman-Fine and Olivia Rosenthal
Law students Talya Lockman-Fine and Olivia Rosenthal discussed their report on Richmond's response to evictions Monday. (Photo: Megan Pauly/VPM)

A pair of law students from Yale and Stanford spent the summer in Richmond researching the city’s response to its ongoing eviction crisis. They presented their findings to local housing leaders, advocates and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney Monday. 

The majority of the report focuses on policy solutions that have been used to help prevent eviction in other parts of the state and country.

“Our main takeaway is that all of this ongoing work [in Richmond] should continue and hopefully be better supported and resourced, but as all of you emphasized in interviews, more needs to be done,” said Stanford law student Olivia Rosenthal.

Policy suggestions included creating a centralized “one-stop shop” tenants can access for all housing-related needs, increasing education for tenants and landlords, increasing coordination among agencies around emergency rental assistance, expanding tenant access to case management and social workers, and more support for tenants post-eviction. 

Yale law student Talya Lockman-Fine said the report was modeled off of a report that came out of a Philadelphia task force on eviction prevention that the mayor there established, and whose work is ongoing. 

“That, also in a number of interviews with you, came up as one possible way forward,” said Lockman-Fine. “But it’s not up to us to figure out what makes sense.”

Marty Wegbreit, director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, said the report is a good blueprint Richmond can use. 

“But like any blueprint, the house doesn’t build itself,” Wegbreit said. “And if it just stays a blueprint and we don’t have a house to move into, it’s not going to be very valuable.”

Housing leaders talked in small groups about which policy suggestions they liked, and what they thought could work in Richmond. Several people said they liked the idea of a “one-stop shop” for tenants, but they weren’t sure one physical location would work.

Nichele Carver, program manager with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, said transportation could be a problem.

“A mom with multiple kids having to travel somewhere...that just becomes a barrier to access,” Carver said. 

Janae Craddock, housing law outreach attorney with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, said she wanted to see more collaboration between agencies. She said she was impressed with coordination efforts in Fairfax County.

“Working in the system here in Richmond, it is abundantly clear to me that you have people and they don’t know where to go,” Craddock said. 

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney asked the group what easy solutions the city could implement to help address the problem.

Homeward Executive Director Kelly King Horne suggested having Richmond’s 211 coordinate services through a virtual one-stop shop.

“Probably the cheapest things to do is make sure they [211] have the most accurate information,” Kelly King Horne said. “That’s probably one of the cheapest fixes compared to all of the other stuff.” 

Regarding post-eviction support, she suggested creating a checklist of organizations people could call for help. Additional funding for rental assistance also came up. 

“They’re [ACTS] maxed out with what they’ve got,” said Alice Tousignant with the Campaign to Reduce Evictions. “So if they have more funding, they are poised to actually help more people.”  

Ideas about tenant and landlord education were also floated. 

“I feel like the education is low-hanging fruit to me,” said housing organizer Omari Al-Qadaffi. 

CEO for the Virginia Apartment Management Association Patrick McCleod said Utah provided discounted city business licenses in exchange for landlords completing an educational course. 

Stoney’s senior policy advisor Osita Iroegbu said she’ll talk with the mayor about creating a task force to look into how best to help people avoid evictions altogether, and help them get back on their feet after they’ve already been evicted.

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