Northam announces rent relief program, advocates fear it’s not enough

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- At a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced a new rent relief program to cover payments for those struggling during the pandemic but advocates fear it won’t meet the need.

When a statewide pause on eviction proceedings is lifted on Sunday, June 28th, Northam said thousands of Virginians could be at risk of losing their homes.

MORE: Supreme Court of Virginia reinstates some evictions effective immediately

“That is unacceptable,” Northam said. “Virginians are facing a number of difficulties but having a safe and stable place to call home shouldn’t be one of them.”

Northam said the COVID-19 pandemic is fueling an existing eviction crisis in the commonwealth, noting that some localities have among the highest rates in the nation.

“The pandemic has demonstrated that many families, especially minority families, are one financial challenge from an eviction,” he said.

The governor is directing chief circuit court judges to implement eviction moratoriums at the local level by adjusting their dockets.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development is also launching a rent and mortgage relief program on Monday using $50 million in CARES Act funding. Northam said it will help cover payments for applicants, adding that they plan to target outreach to communities of color.

“I urge all landlords and lenders to partner with the state on this effort so that we can help families get current on their rental and mortgage payments,” Northam said.

Some advocates fear that this approach will leave many falling through the cracks.

The Legal Aid Justice Center has said that the only way to make sure all Virginians are protected is to extend the statewide eviction moratorium through the Supreme Court of Virginia, rather than leaving it to local judges.

Northam said he’s not planning to request that. His office explained that the initial moratorium was meant to be a temporary solution until the state could set up the rent relief program.

“Our Chief Justice was very gracious in doing that and I just think we can take another path moving forward,” Northam said.

The Legal Aid Justice Center is also concerned that the initial $50 million in funding won’t be enough.

Gov. Northam’s Administration said they’re expecting tens of thousands of applications but they weren’t able to immediately provide an estimate of how many of those people the initial allocation would reach.

Northam also didn’t specify if assistance would be recurring from month-to-month.

The administration said more information would be available on Monday, June 29 when they begin the roll out.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently estimated the cost of emergency rental assistance in 2020 by state. The Coalition found that more than $2.3 billion would be needed in Virginia to properly fund a rent relief program. 

Using the Coalition’s estimate that the average cost per assisted household would be $9,453, the initial $50 million in federal CARES Act funding committed would cover about 5,300 households. 

NLIHC estimates that more than 376,000 “very low income” and “low income” Virginians will be cost-burdened during the recession.

For additional information about housing and rent assistance in Virginia, click here.

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