RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced new funding to help Virginians at risk of losing their homes but he stopped short of extending the statewide eviction moratorium that is set to expire next week.
Additional funding will make sure more people can be represented in court. Gov. Northam said an allotment of $4 million will help the Legal Services Corporation of Virginia hire twenty new attorneys for two years.
The state is matching a $2 million donation from IKEA U.S. Community Foundation. The Governor’s contribution is coming from the commonwealth’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which was created through a temporary tax on skills games.
Northam said the demand for legal aid has grown since the pandemic began. The Virginia Poverty Law Center estimates that more than 200,000 eviction cases could be filed by the end of the year.
“Obviously there is no good time for a family to lose their home but the pandemic is the worst time,” Northam said.
Northam said 72 percent of tenants with representation in eviction cases are successful–a rate that’s cut in half without legal aid.
Mark Braley, the state’s director of legal aid, said his attorneys have been stretched thin throughout the coronavirus pandemic. He’s grateful for the help.
“Is it enough to represent all of those folks–no. But it will make a big dent,” Braley said.
Northam’s proposed budget being considered by the General Assembly in the ongoing special session would extend the pause on evictions through April of 2021.
Braley fears the proposal won’t pass before the current moratorium is set to expire on September 7th. He said the deadline should be pushed back.
“That would give us breathing room. It would help us sign more people up for the rent relief. There is no one who wants landlords to be paid more than us right now,” Braley said.
According to data collected by the Legal Aid Justice Center, thousands of people lost their homes during the last month-long lapse in protections before Northam directed the Virginia Supreme Court to reinstate the eviction freeze until its current deadline.
Braley estimated that 3,000 Virginians are at risk of immediately losing their homes by September 8th without further action.
Northam said he hasn’t asked the Virginia Supreme Court for an extension.
“I think they would be cooperative if we reached out,” Northam said.
Braley also wants eviction protections in Northam’s budget proposal to be expanded. In its current form, he said people housing a family member not on the lease could still face removal.
“People of color in low-income communities have less of a support system to rely on during these difficult times and they need to take care of each other,” Braley said. “If that means moving people who have lost their homes in with their families until this crisis has abated then we need to do that.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Del. Luke Torian (D-Prince William) wouldn’t say for sure if he supports including this group under a possible moratorium extension.
“A lot of things are possible,” Torian said during Monday’s press conference.
People that are having trouble paying the bills are encouraged to apply for the state’s Rent and Mortgage Relief Program. As of last week, eligible applicants can now have 100 percent of missed payments covered going back to April 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
Northam said the program, established at the end of June, has served 3,100 households in Virginia so far. He said more than 60 percent of the homes served have children.