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‘A Perfect Storm’: Virginia Renters Prepare For The End Of Some Eviction Protections

Photo by Sam Turken, WHRO. About 160,000 Virginians say they could face eviction in the next two months.
Photo by Sam Turken, WHRO. About 160,000 Virginians say they could face eviction in the next two months.

Taneka Calloway has struggled to make rent throughout the coronavirus pandemic. After losing her job as a personal care attendant in October, she fell behind on $5,700 worth of payments.

Her landlord could have forced her out had there not been a federal moratorium on evictions. A separate Virginia policy mandated the landlord help her apply to a statewide rent relief program.

It all worked out — earlier this year, Calloway received financial assistance that covered everything she owed.

“I was so thankful,” she said. “I’m not trying to be homeless.”

Calloway took advantage of the eviction protections at the right time. They won’t last much longer.

The nationwide eviction moratorium by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will expire June 30. So will a state policy requiring that landlords help renters apply for rental assistance and barring evictions unless a tenant refuses to cooperate with the application.

With nearly 160,000 Virginians saying they could face eviction in the next few months, housing advocates fear the end of the federal and state protections could lead to a surge of Virginians losing their homes. 

“It makes for a perfect storm of just folks who are in incredibly tough situations and through no fault of their own lost their source of income,” said Holly Yates, a housing attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia.

The federal ban on evictions for nonpayment of rent has been in place since September. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has declined to say whether the agency will extend the moratorium.

If the ban does continue past June 30, its future will still be uncertain. Landlords have repeatedly sued over it, saying it exceeds the CDC’s authority. In May, a federal judge agreed and struck down the ban, but let it continue while the Biden administration appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court is now reviewing the case.

A separate statewide protection, in place for much of the pandemic, has been among the commonwealth’s most powerful ways of preventing evictions. It mandates that landlords notify tenants about the Virginia Rent Relief Program and help them apply for it. A landlord can only file an eviction if a tenant doesn’t receive approval for rent assistance within 45 days of their application. 

As of May 19, about 37,300 households have received a combined $225 million in rental and mortgage relief since the start of the program last summer, according to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

Virginia will continue to offer rent relief thanks to an infusion of $451 million from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March.

However, the looming expiration of the landlord mandate has housing advocates concerned that many tenants facing eviction won’t learn about the Rent Relief Program or may have difficulty submitting an application.

“It can be a little bit clunky for tenants to try to figure out uploading all the documents that are required,” Yates said. “It’s very hard for people who don’t have access to a computer who may be trying to just do it on their phone.”

The landlord mandate has been a part of a 15-month state of emergency brought on by the pandemic. With infection rates low and nearly all COVID-19-related restrictions lifted, Gov. Ralph Northam has said he will not extend the emergency declaration.

When asked if he will at least continue the landlord requirement, a spokesperson noted in an email that other statewide measures will help tenants keep their homes. One of them delays an eviction case by 60 days if the renter can prove loss of income due to the pandemic.

Another policy forces landlords to offer payment plans to tenants who owe back rent. A landlord can only pursue an eviction if the tenant breaks the agreement or rejects it.

“The Governor will continue to work with advocates and the legislature to ensure Virginians have access to safe, secure and affordable housing,” the spokesperson wrote.

The apartment industry argues the expiring eviction protections are unnecessary.

Patrick McCloud, CEO of the Virginia Apartment Management Association, predicts landlords and property managers will continue to help tenants secure rent relief. He noted that his association sends landlords guidelines for how to avoid evictions.

“Our first interest is to keep people in housing. And what a lot of people don’t realize is evictions are expensive,” McCloud said. “So it’s in everyone’s best interest to do the rent relief program.”

Still, housing attorneys and tenants say some landlords rush to evict people. They note that landlords and property managers have continued to file eviction cases this year even though the CDC moratorium prevents the cases from moving forward.

There were 6,034 eviction case filings from January to March, according to the RVA Eviction Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University,

Heather Crislip, CEO of the nonprofit Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, added that the expiring protections are still necessary because many renters continue to suffer financially from the pandemic.

“It’s heartbreaking. We have just tremendous volume of people looking for assistance and trying to stay out of eviction court,” she said.

Taneka Calloway, who lost her job last year, is one of those Virginians.

Calloway has struggled to find a new job since the Virginia Rent Relief Program paid off her back rent earlier this year. She can only work remotely in part because of a painful kidney disorder, polycystic kidney disease.

She already owes her landlord another $4,000 and awaits more rent relief.

“I’m trying to do as much as I can,” she said. “I have a lot going on in my life, so I can’t lose my house.”