With evictions allowed to resume Monday in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration has released details on a rent and mortgage relief program created to help residents struggling financially.
Nonprofit organizations and local governments will administer the program, receiving money up front to distribute to eligible households, Northam’s office said Monday.
Northam announced last week, without detailing eligibility requirements or administration plans, that the state will use $50 million of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds for the program, which is aimed at helping people facing evictions or foreclosure because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Virginia Supreme Court’s ban on evictions expired Sunday and the Northam administration did not ask for it to be continued, instead calling on chief circuit court judges around the state to institute an evictions freeze.
“Expanding access to safe, affordable housing has been and will continue to be a top priority of my administration, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” Northam said Monday. “The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program will help Virginians experiencing financial instability as a result of this unprecedented health crisis by preventing evictions and foreclosures and keeping Virginia families safely in their homes as we battle this virus.”
More than 12,000 households face eviction in the state, which has a 5.12% eviction rate, representing the number of evictions per 100 rented homes. That’s above the national average, according to 2016 research from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.
To be eligible, a household must show that it has an inability to pay rent or mortgage during the pandemic (a layoff, reduction in hours, or the loss of child or spousal support, among other things). That rent or mortgage payment must be at or below 150% of Fair Market Rent, which is determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Eligible households must also have a gross income at or below 80% of the area’s median income. For a family of four in Richmond, that’s $71,500, according to the Virginia Housing Development Authority.
The program will give priority to households without other federal and state eviction or foreclosure protections, according to a Northam news release. It will also give precedence until July 20 to households with gross incomes at or below 50% of the area’s median income, which is $44,700 in the city.
After July 20, the program will include the families making at or up to 80% of AMI. Top consideration will be given to households that have an eviction action dated before June 8.
Erik Johnston, the head of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, said in an interview Monday that initial applications are one-time money, but people can apply again if they continue to face financial issues related to the pandemic and there’s money left.
The two main scenarios for applicants, Johnston said, are people struggling to pay their July rent or mortgage, and people who have back rent or mortgage payments they’ve been unable to pay.
People receiving the money will also be connected with housing counseling, according to Northam’s office.
“Safe, stable housing is essential for public health,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “As we continue to secure funding for rent and mortgage assistance, this $50 million investment will serve the most vulnerable Virginians while providing a road map for future relief.”
Housing advocates urged the governor to seek an extension to the eviction freeze, which he had successfully done earlier this month.
The heads of the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Legal Aid Justice Center and New Virginia Majority said the program rolled out Monday is not ready and is not enough.
“The Department of Housing and Community Development, the very agency attempting to implement this program, requested $200 Million for this program, even then, knowing that this will likely not be sufficient to truly stem the tide of housing instability in Virginia,” the leaders said in a joint letter last week. “This program must be properly funded to be effective — otherwise it will be depleted within a very short period of time, and mass evictions will overtake the courts.”
They added: “Moreover, implementation will take longer than we have before courts reopen. It will take a while to educate tenants and others about the different rules. Local programs administering rent relief need time to do outreach to tenants and landlords, and tenants and landlords need time to apply.”
The advocates warned that it could take until late July or August before money is paid to satisfy tenants’ rent.
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