RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia’s pandemic-era eviction protections will soon come to an end but there is still time for tenants to act.
In less than two weeks, the Virginia Rent Relief Program will close its application portal. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) recently announced they will accept new submissions until 11:59 p.m on May 15.
The agency said in a press release that the program has received more than $1 billion in funding. More than $713 million in 141,330 rent relief payments have reportedly been processed and disbursed as of March 31.
DHCD has not responded to questions about why the program is ending now, how many applications are in the pipeline, if there is expected to be enough funding for all eligible submissions and how long it will take to get the rest of the money out of the door. The agency has also declined or not replied to multiple interview requests.
The rent relief program was first established in June 2020 to prevent evictions as public health officials were advising Virginians to stay home during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Central Virginia Legal Aid Society Litigation Director Marty Wegbreit fears the end of the program will result in more removals.
“Unfortunately, I think we will see an increase in evictions and that’s mostly because evictions have been extremely low for the past, really, two years due to the various federal and state moratoriums and the rent relief program,” Wegbreit said. “It was a large influx of cash. We’ve never seen that much before.”
Virginia Apartment Management Association Executive Director Patrick McCloud said, following the May 15 deadline, temporary eviction protections established under state law will be impacted. He said landlords will still have to give tenants a 14-day non-payment notice but they won’t be required to apply for rent relief on their behalf before proceeding with an eviction.
McCloud said that may cause some confusion because rules passed by the General Assembly say the notice must detail soon-to-be-outdated rent relief requirements through June 30.
“I would say talk with your management company. They’re wanting to keep residents in their homes. They’re wanting to work with residents but the time to have those conversations is now. Don’t just be relying on the government to be there for you,” McCloud said.
McCloud said those conversations are especially important because any application submitted after April 21, 2022, will be prioritized based on updated criteria, then processed on a first come, first served basis.
DHCD said eligible households have an income less than 50% of area median income or have one or more individuals that have not been employed for the 90-day period preceding the date of application.
McCloud said Virginians can apply multiple times and have a maximum of 18 months of rent covered without having to repay the state. He said up to three months can be paid in advance.
“So, in theory, an individual applying for May rent could also be eligible for, not only May, but also June and July,” McCloud said.
“I think it’s the right time to end the program. I think it will be good for the process of getting back to normal,” McCloud added.
Wegbreit said Virginians should dial 2-1-1 to find out if there are any other assistance programs available. He also noted that, under Virginia law, late fees from landlords are limited and tenants can get an eviction canceled if they pay in full up to 48 hours before a scheduled proceeding.
Through June 30, landlords with more than four units are also required under state law to offer a payment plan, according to the Virginia Poverty Law Center. VPLC said a tenant can only use this option once during a lease period and failure to stay up-to-date with the payment plan means a landlord can proceed with an eviction.
As pandemic-era protections are phased out, Wegbreit said it’s time for Virginia to step up its investment in affordable housing to deal with the underlying cause of high eviction rates.
“Not just a token investment but one that’s really going to move the needle because, we can keep shoveling rent relief money toward landlords, but that’s not going to create a situation where tenants have more options and have the ability to rent affordably,” Wegbreit said.
Budget negotiations between the Republican-led House of Delegates and the Democrat-controlled Senate are ongoing.
According to a comparison from The Commonwealth Institute, the Senate’s plan as passed would increase funding by $190 million to create or preserve affordable housing units under the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. The House’s plan does not include the increase.
“I mean, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, has an affordable housing trust fund of $100 million. So you can see just by that example that Virginia has a long way to go,” Wegbreit said.