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Virginia Eviction Protections Could Be Extended as Filings Rise

person holds sign
Organizers with New Virginia Majority protest last January outside the Science Museum of Virginia, which hosted the state Senate during 2021's first legislative session. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Democrats in the General Assembly have united behind a plan to extend a key eviction protection program that has won praise from both landlords and tenant advocates.

The push comes after a federal eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expired at the end of July. Housing advocates have expressed concern about a wave of evictions coinciding with the end of the program.

There are some signs evictions may be picking up again. Eviction filings in Virginia rose in April and May, according to a report from the RVA Eviction Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University published last week. The numbers dipped in June, but researchers attributed the drop to a customary lag in data reporting.

Housing advocates say the problem would be far more dire without the Virginia Rent Relief Program. If someone is late on rent, landlords can apply to get money from the state through the program, or tenants can apply themselves. Applicants must have lost income due to the pandemic to be eligible.

The program is a win-win, according to Patrick McCloud, executive director of the Virginia Apartment Management Association.

“Evictions are expensive,” McCloud said. “No one wants to evict. It is an absolute last resort.”

Right now, it’s optional for landlords to apply on behalf of tenants. Democratic lawmakers like Cia Price want to make it mandatory, as it was from late November through June. That setup won praise from the New York Times’ editorial board as a model for other states where the funds have languished.

“It is unconscionable that there would be evictions when the money is there,” Price said.

McCloud said he had reservations about the state mandate, which he said inserted a third party into contracts between landlords and tenants. And he said some tenants ignored notifications about the program, forfeiting their chance to get help. But McCloud said the program could help drive investment in Virginia’s affordable housing stock given the stability of state-backed rent payments.

So far, the fund has helped over 48,000 households with over $300 million in rent money; nearly $700 million remains left to disperse. The budget proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam that is currently under consideration by the General Assembly would allow the program to be extended through June 2022 or until the funds are exhausted.

Kathryn Howell, co-director of the RVA Eviction Lab, said increasing the program’s visibility to tenants was key to its future success. And she said the state was making a solid investment given studies showing the broader costs of evictions.

“We can't just sort of pretend like this doesn't have a long term cost, not just to the family, but also to our local governments, our local hospitals and other infrastructure,” Howell said. 

I cover state politics for VPM with a focus on accountability journalism. I'm a former member of NPR's 2020 elections collaborative and my work appears regularly on NPR shows. I previously covered politics and culture in Cambodia and lived pre-journalism lives as a tech writer at Google and a program manager for a youth job training program in Alameda County, California. My writing has been featured on BBC, The Washington Monthly, the South China Morning Post, and more.