Eviction crisis: With hot rental market and return of evictions, many struggle to stay off the streets

10 On Your Side

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — The end of the moratorium on evictions put in place during the pandemic is coming at a time when rents in the region are high. Those two forces have tenants on edge, as well as the governmental and social agencies that assist them.

Elizabeth Fenno has to get her stuff out of storage, box it up, and move out of her place on East Ocean View Avenue in Norfolk. “I’m moving because [my landlord] is selling.”

Fenno checked prices two years ago, looking at a place in Hampton when it was renting for $975 a month.

“Now they’re up to $1,400. I’m like, what?” she said.

People who have to move, or are about to get evicted in a hot rental market, can easily get burned by the high rates. Angie Knight Mizell is in that dilemma in Suffolk.

“My biggest fear is being homeless,” she said, “because I have nowhere to go.”

Mizell’s landlord wants to sell, too. She’s current on her rent, but says she can’t find an affordable place to move her family and home-based health care business.

“I know that’s it’s an eviction possibility coming, and I don’t want that on me, but I’d rather have that than [be out] in the street with nowhere to go.”

“I have never seen anything like this before,” said Michelle Johnson, Director of Neighborhood Services for Norfolk. “The loss of housing is a major trauma in someone’s life.”‘

Her department works with other city and community agencies to ease that trauma through the state’s Rent Relief Program. In Norfolk for example, the RRP has already helped nearly 1,900 families with rent. They’ve received $11.5 million in assistance through June. Zip codes 23513, 23505, and 23503 were the areas of greatest need.

With the moratorium on evictions now gone, Johnson is expecting a rush on the program.

“We don’t know how many people are going to need this. We will certainly soon find out.”

Landlords can now pursue evictions that were banned for more than a year, but some may end up selling. The owner of a Hampton property hasn’t seen the $750 monthly rent check since May 2020.

“You need money to do the maintenance on the house. Right now it’s due for upkeep,” said landlord A.G. Hughes.

The home needs new carpeting and paint, but the Air Force vet says he’s sympathetic to his tenant’s plight.

“They said there’s nothing that they can do about it, they’re without a job at this time,” Hughes said. He and his tenant have applied for the Rent Relief Program but can’t get any word on the status. He says he can’t sustain zero rent revenue much longer, and says he’s afraid he’ll have to sell the property.

“The supply (of available rental units) is very little and the cost is extremely high at this point,” said Jackie Pierce, who manages about 150 units across Hampton Roads. She says the RRP is helping tenants throughout the area.

“We have to offer that money to the tenant when they are behind,” Pierce said. “We also have to offer a payment plan as well.”

If you’re facing eviction, don’t think you can just blow off your court date, Johnson advises.

“If you get any kind of information or correspondence that you are supposed to show up in court – please do so. The best thing that you can do is to show up in court and to state your case.”

Fenno was able to find something, although it was more expensive than she had hoped. She fears others won’t be so lucky.

“There are going to be middle-class people that will be homeless.”

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