Northam an­nounces $50M rent re­lief pro­gram as evic­tions re­sume

Crit­ics say Va. is un­pre­pared, fund­ing is in­suf­fi­cient

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUSTIN MAT­TINGLY Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch

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%

“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.”

Gov. Ralph Northam

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.

BOB BROWN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Gov. Ralph Northam fielded ques­tions at a news con­fer­ence in Rich­mond on Thurs­day.

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