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Virginia's Supreme Court lifts freeze on evictions; Stoney pledges CARES Act funds to address issue

Virginia's Supreme Court lifts freeze on evictions; Stoney pledges CARES Act funds to address issue

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Evictions can resume in Virginia next week after the state’s high court lifted a ban on eviction hearings in response to COVID-19.

The ban, instituted initially in March and extended earlier this month, expires June 28. According to an order from Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Lemons, which is in effect through July 19, eviction hearings can resume June 29, the same day the state is set to roll out a rent relief program. The decision puts nearly 2,000 families in Richmond, which has one of the country’s highest eviction rates, in danger of eviction.

Rob Poggenklass, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center, criticized the decision not to extend the eviction ban.

“We’re still in the middle of a pandemic,” Poggenklass said. “We’re literally pulling people into our courtrooms in the middle of a global pandemic to kick them out of their homes for not paying rent when many people still aren’t working. It’s totally reckless.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced Monday that the city is using $6 million of the $20.1 million it received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to fund an eviction diversion program and provide rental assistance to residents.

A city news release said the money would help people currently facing eviction and those at risk of eviction because of coronavirus-related economic challenges.

“From both a human services and a public health perspective, it is paramount that Richmond residents do not face housing insecurity during this pandemic,” Stoney said in a statement. “In the long-term recovery from this crisis, we want to make sure the city’s doing everything it can to empower residents, especially during the most challenging moments of their lives.”

Stoney’s office said roughly 1,900 households in the city face a pending eviction.

Richmond had the second-highest eviction rate in the country as of 2016, according to research from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. As a state, Virginia’s 5.12% eviction rate, representing the number of evictions per 100 rented homes, was above the national average.

Gov. Ralph Northam asked earlier this month that the eviction ban be extended to give his administration time to announce a rent relief program that also is expected to use CARES Act funds.

Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the administration is in the process of finalizing the program, with additional details to be announced this week. The program will be rolled out Monday, she said.

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