Amid continued protest against evictions in Richmond, Jasmine Jones worries that her mother could lose her home in the city’s West End.
“She just lost her job because of COVID-19. She’s pretty much on the verge of not being able to pay her rent,” the 20-year-old VCU student said.
Jones and dozens of other people returned to the John Marshall Courts Building on Thursday a week after a protest there against the continuation of eviction hearings, which previously had been suspended, ended in pepper spray, a smashed window and two arrests.
Thursday’s event — which unfolded as the city continued taking down Confederate monuments — concluded without incident after a brief series of speeches; protesters said radical transformation is needed to dismantle racial inequities in housing and society at-large.
“I honestly wish more people were here,” Jones said. “They’re trying to satisfy us with taking down the monuments, meanwhile evictions are still going on.”
As of late June, there were approximately 3,800 pending eviction cases in Richmond and the counties of Henrico and Chesterfield, according to an RVA Eviction Lab study conducted by VCU researchers from the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs last month.
Statewide, more than 12,000 households face eviction, according to Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy, a court-issued moratorium on evictions was in place statewide until late June, after Northam’s administration announced a $50 million rent and mortgage relief program supported by funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The city has pledged $6 million of its CARES act dollars to eviction diversion and rent relief.
While Northam has asked local courts systems to consider ordering their own moratorium to pause eviction cases, Steve Fischbach, litigation director for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said only Arlington and Fairfax counties have done so.
According to the RVA Eviction Lab, about 1,000 of the 3,800 pending eviction cases are for properties covered under a federal moratorium properties that are supported by federal housing assistance or loan programs.
But even with that delay and state relief efforts, Fischbach said he worries it may not be enough, predicting that there could be a “crushing” increase in evictions by September.
“We’re in the middle a pandemic. Health officials are saying it’s best to stay home. But if you’re evicted you don’t have a home,” he said. “If evictions proceed and people become dispossessed ... it will help spread the virus.”
In interviews and speeches Thursday, demonstrators said many of society’s racial disparities are rooted in a capitalist system in need of reform or removal.
“Eviction is one of the many things that I see wrong with this system. I do not agree with the idea of private property,” Phillip Daniel, a 21-year-old University of Richmond student who grew up in the city, said in an interview. “I think it’s corrupt. It needs to change.”
Others who spoke at the rally said activists and other like-minded people need to become better organized to advocate for the changes they wish to see.
“Our city is long overdue for an empowered working class that doesn’t take s--- from landlords,” said Stephen Axeman, an organizer with the Richmond Tenants Union.
“We can build a compassionate and democratic system that is fundamentally concerned with righting exploitation and historical injustice; But first we need to become organized with our neighbors in every building, every block and in every neighborhood.”