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Richmond housing advocates sound alarm on new eviction numbers

A building with a glass exterior that reads "JOHN MARSHALL COURTS BUILDING
Crixell Matthews
The number of eviction cases heard at the John Marshall Courts Building in downtown Richmond has been rising in recent weeks. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

One-hundred twenty-six evictions are scheduled this week in Richmond, according to public records provided to VPM News by the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.

Martin Wegbreit, the director of litigation at the legal aid society, said a typical week prior to the pandemic might have included about 50 to 60 evictions. 

“I mean, to have double the prepandemic average is a huge outlier,” Wegbreit said.

Data from the Legal Services Corporation and CVLAS shows that the number of scheduled eviction case hearings and evictions proceedings in Richmond are climbing. 

“You can't do anything without housing. You can't get a job without an address. You can't [get a license] without an address,” said Tracey Hardney-Scott, the housing chairperson for the Virginia NAACP. "Imagine that all being taken away from you.”

Wegbreit said most of the clients he sees in court for eviction cases are people of color and women. 

Evictions take place weeks after judgments are issued, meaning more individuals and families could be removed from their housing in coming weeks.

“I'm afraid that the trend for all of these figures is generally upward,” Wegbreit said. “And we don't know when it's going to stop.”

A tally by Wegbreit showed more evictions scheduled for this week than any time since July. 

Richmond Sheriff Antoinette Irving was unavailable to answer questions on the scale of evictions.

Evictions in Richmond garnered national press coverage in 2017 and 2018, and the General Assembly passed major landlord-tenant reforms in legislative sessions during recent years. 

But now, rents are higher, and pandemic protections to keep people in their homes have expired. A requirement that landlords apply for rent relief also expired in July. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development provided VPM News with data showing that 15,077 payments totaling $66 million in rental relief funds were disbursed through Aug. 15. Funds were exhausted in October.

Hardney-Scott said policymakers didn’t plan enough for the transition period out of these programs.

“We knew we weren't ready when we were in the pandemic. But even in the pandemic, we did not prepare to come out of the pandemic,” she said. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s approach to the shortage of affordable housing has focused on reducing barriers to construction, rather than bolstering public services. 

“There's no real relief on the horizon,” Wegbreit said. “Indeed, there's no real sense of urgency that I'm detecting from government, from business, from the public — or really from any quarter.” 

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.