Demonstrators protest outside Richmond courthouse as thousands face evictions

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The calls to stop eviction proceedings in Richmond are continuing. On Thursday afternoon, several dozen people gathered at the John Marshall Courthouse in downtown Richmond to protest people being taken from their homes. For more than a decade, Virginia’s had one of the highest eviction rates in the country.

The statewide ban on evictions ended at the end of June. The federal pause on evictions for federally-backed mortgages and federal subsidies is expected to be lifted on July 25. According to the VCU research group “RVA Eviction LAB,” more than 30,000 units are protected by the moratorium across the region. On Thursday, protesters argue evictions should be halted, considering the pandemic is still a real threat.

In mid-May, Virginia courts reopened and began playing catch up from the weeks they were closed. According to Richmond city officials and court dockets, a vast majority of eviction cases currently being heard were filed before the pandemic took hold of Virginia. On Thursday’s docket at the John Marshall Courts Building, just 4 percent of eviction cases were filed on or after April 12, which is the first month many renters told 8News they couldn’t find the money for rent. 

Still, on Thursday, protesters said no one should be left on the streets, regardless of when the unlawful detainers were filed. “It is inhumane to evict people during a global health crisis,” one protester said at the rally.

On Thursday afternoon, several dozen people gathered at the John Marshall Courthouse in downtown Richmond to protest people being taken from their homes. (photo taken by 8News’ Alex Thorson)

On July 1, two people were arrested after an anti-eviction protest at the same courts building. The protest ended with demonstrators being pepper-sprayed and the courthouse being vandalized. The courthouse closed because of it.

Over a week later at Thursday’s rally, there was no clashing between authorities and demonstrators. Speakers took turns on a microphone as sheriff’s deputies watched near the courts building entrance. 

“People have lost work for months because of COVID, because they can not go into their jobs,” one speaker said to the crowd. 

According to a recent study by VCU research group “RVA Eviction lab,” there are at least 3,800 pending eviction cases in Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond.

Steve Fishback with the Virginia Poverty Law Center was at Thursday’s gathering. He told 8News he was there assisting other attorneys with their eviction cases. Fishback said thankfully, many of the cases were dismissed Thursday.

On Thursday afternoon, several dozen people gathered at the John Marshall Courthouse in downtown Richmond to protest people being taken from their homes. (photo taken by 8News’ Alex Thorson)

“Apparently these tenants were able to pay what they owed so the landlords dismissed them,” he said. 

However, Fishback doesn’t expect that will always be the case. He says in coming weeks, there are thousands of people who could be thrown on the streets. “We are concerned that if evictions proceed and people start getting dispossessed, that that’s not only going to increase homelessness, but also help spread the virus,” he said.

In a letter to chief general district court judges across Virginia, the governor asked courtrooms to delay hearing eviction cases until at least July 20, 2020, to allow tenants who need assistance to apply. Very few judges have agreed. 8News reached out to the Northam’s office on Thursday to find out how many and who but haven’t heard back.

As courts play catch up on older cases, the government is making $50 million available for people who can’t pay rent because of the pandemic. That’s just one of the many programs being created to help renters and people trying to pay their mortgages. In Richmond, $6 million is set aside to help those in the city. 

On Thursday afternoon, several dozen people gathered at the John Marshall Courthouse in downtown Richmond to protest people being taken from their homes. (photo taken by 8News’ Alex Thorson)

Many protesters say the aid will run out quickly. Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development Director Erik Johnston estimated that 50,000 Virginians are at risk of being evicted in July alone. Last week, Johnston confirmed that DHCD originally requested $200 million in initial funding.

“It’s unconscionable that our city’s government, that our state government, doesn’t support the people that need the support the most, to put a roof over their heads during a global pandemic,” said Nathanael Rudney, who was at the protest with his young son. 

Patrick McCloud is CEO of the Virginia Apartment Management Association. “Right now we have cases out there where we’re talking 6 months, 8 months of unpaid rent. That’s housing that could be used by someone else who can pay rent,” he told 8News. 

McCloud said landlords have to pay their bills, too. “They have to make the decision, at what point, how long do you go without collecting rent?” he asked. When 8News asked about the pandemic impacting people’s ability to pay rent, he pointed to the several government programs available for people in need. McCloud added that a lot of the association’s members have worked out payment plans with their renters who need help, and said every renter should be communicating concerns with their property manager. 

The CEO also said there is misinformation spreading. McCloud told 8News that some tenants think they could get in trouble with their employers if they appear in court for an eviction hearing. There’s actually a state code that prohibits that.

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