RICHMOND — With Virginia’s Rent Relief Program ending, a flood of eviction cases has emerged.
Established during the pandemic, the program was designed to help tenants who were having trouble paying their rent, but it stopped accepting applications in mid-May. Prior to the closure, landlords could have informed tenants who were behind on their rent about the program, and could even apply for it on their behalf.
Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said when she spoke with tenants, she found something entirely different.
“They have filed all their paperwork to get the emergency rental assistance,” Marra observed. “And when they call to check on the status of their application because they have an eviction hearing coming up, the people who run the program tell them that they haven’t received the necessary paperwork from the landlord.”
The Rent Relief Program has also seen delays in processing applications. Marra feels some problems could be prevented if landlords continued to give tenants a 14-day grace period. The grace period put in place by the legislature ended June 30. Marra cited the growing number of eviction cases as a good reason for an ongoing rental assistance program in the state.
Another factor in the eviction spike is a lack of affordable housing for Virginia renters. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a person working at the state minimum wage of $9.50 an hour would have to work 88 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment at the average market rate of just over $1,000 a month.
Marra believes the height of the pandemic was a better time for tenant law.
“I think we have a system that I think everybody now knows is not tenant-friendly,” Marra asserted. “It became more tenant-friendly during the pandemic. But unfortunately, most of the improvements that were made to the landlord-tenant law in Virginia during the pandemic were time-limited, and they expired.”
She added Virginia renters would also benefit from a state-funded housing voucher program, and more funding allocated for the federal Housing Choice voucher program.
Disclosure: The Virginia Poverty Law Center contributes to Virginia News Connection’s fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Housing/Homelessness, Poverty Issues, and Social Justice.