Category Archives: Housing

In Praise of Trailer Parks

Bermuda Estates, Chesterfield County

by James A. Bacon

Nobody knows for sure how many trailer parks there are in Virginia, and Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, wants to find answers. He has introduced a budget amendment to establish a Virginia Manufactured Home Park registry, to be funded with a $100 database maintenance fee from each mobile home park. 

Krizek regards trailer parks as a rare form of affordable housing in the state, and he’s concerned that market forces could put them out of business. Many were built long ago on land that was inexpensive at the time but due to the evolution of real estate markets has become desirable.

“The biggest problem is that the land is so valuable,” Krizek told The Virginia Mercury. “These parks are a gold mine for someone who wants to come in and build a 20-story apartment complex. I understand the need for density, but it’s sad when one of these communities goes away because they have been there for 20-30 years.” Continue reading

McAuliffe’s “Big Bold” Housing Plan Is Neither

Richmond homelessness. Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Homelessness spiked in the Richmond area over the past year — more than 50%, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The increase from 549 to 838 people in 2020 was the largest single-year jump since anyone began tracking the number in the 1990s. Given the fact that hundreds of thousands of Virginians are at risk of eviction, homelessness likely will get much worse before it gets better.

Clearly, Virginia has a social crisis on its hands. The burning question is what to do about it. Do we treat the symptoms? Do we enact remedies that backfire and make things worse? Or do we address underlying problems?

We can get a glimpse of Virginia’s likely course of action by scrutinizing the plan to tackle the commonwealth’s housing crisis proffered by gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. Dominating the field of Democratic Party candidates, the former governor is the odds-on favorite to win the party nomination. Facing the survivor of the Republicans’ circular firing squad, that makes him the odds-on favorite to become Virginia’s next governor.

McAuliffe announced he has a plan — a “big bold” plan — in a Feb. 8 press release. In McAuliffe’s assessment, more than 260,000 Virginia households face the risk of eviction in the fall. Continue reading

Herring Strikes Blow for Emotional Support Animals

Phoebe, the Bacon family emotional support cat, provides companionship and comfort — in sum, helps us maintain a “happier more full life” — during the COVID-19 shut-in.

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Mark Herring has issued a press release touting his victory in compelling a Pulaski County townhouse community to accommodate a couple with an emotional support animal.

“Virginians with disabilities have the right to live with an assistance animal, especially if that assistance animal helps them live happier, more full lives — assistance animals are not pets and cannot be subject to fees or breed and weight restrictions like other pets can be,” said Herring. “Assistance animals … are often the best way for individuals with debilitating symptoms caused by various mental or physical impairments to substantial improve their quality of life.”

Here are the particulars of the case, as recounted in the press release. The couple, Michael and Charlene Butler, provided “clinical verification” of the need to bring Charlene’s assistance dog to live with them in the Unique Deerfield Village Townhomes Complex. The property managers imposed weight limits and pet deposit fees on the assistance animal. Continue reading

To Solve Homelessness, Equip People to Rise from Poverty

The Brisben Center’s Ucan Club teaches families cooking and meal-planning skills they can take with them when they leave the shelter.

by David Cooper

There is an ongoing debate among nonprofits providing homeless shelters on the best way to address homelessness. Should they focus on finding places for people to live, regardless of what mental health or substance abuse problems they might have, or should they stress equipping them with life skills, even if it means a prolonged dependence upon the shelter?

As the staff of the Thurman Brisben Center has learned from serving the homeless of Greater Fredericksburg for 33 years — more than 7,000 individuals since 2005— homelessness is complicated. From underemployment and unemployment to physical/mental disabilities, from family breakups to poor credit histories, and from addictions to criminal justice involvement, the breadth of underlying causes is sobering.

The majority of homeless are working households and turn to shelters only as a last resort. A mere 14% — about 34 individuals locally — meet federal criteria for “chronic” (long-term) homelessness. However, they are targeted to receive the most government funding to permanently house them. Continue reading

Vacation Homes as Virginia Rural Resource

Vacation-home share of housing, 2018. Credit: StatChat blog

by James A. Bacon

Virginia has more than 88,000 vacation homes, about 2.5% of all homes in the Commonwealth, according to the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group. These “seasonally vacant homes” intended mainly for recreational use are overwhelmingly located in amenity-rich rural locales along the Chesapeake Bay, the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, or man-made lakes.

Moreover, reports StatChat, the vacation share of housing has increased since 2018 in most jurisdictions — more than 7.5 percent in some cases.

Bacon’s Rebellion has argued that Virginia’s rural counties should position themselves as destinations for retirement and vacation housing as an economic development strategy. Retirement and rental properties boost the tax base and create service jobs in localities where employment opportunities are otherwise scarce. Continue reading

High Housing Costs and Virginia’s Brain Drain

Hasta la vista!

Between 2010 and 2018 Virginia’s population grew by more than half a million residents, ranking 9th in the nation, due to strong natural increase (births over deaths) and steady international immigration. But the Old Dominion was only one of two states in the top 10 — the other was California — to experience negative net domestic migration, reports Lisa Sturtevant, chief economist for the Virginia Realtor’s Association in the Realtors’ blog.

Nearby southeastern states have shown strong domestic in-migration. What’s Virginia’s problem?

According to Sturtevant, the state’s biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining young workers. In continuation of a decade-long trend, about 6,00 more 25- to 34-year-olds moved out of Virginia in 2018 than moved in 2017 and 2018. These young people aren’t fleeing economically deprived rural areas. They’re leaving the high-cost areas, particularly Northern Virginia.

Says Sturtevant: “Even though professional opportunities are attractive and wages are high, home prices have gotten so high that it is increasingly challenging for young adults to buy homes. Many have been moving to places where jobs are still good but the cost of living is lower and it is easier to buy a home.”

— JAB

Governor Northam, You’ve Got the Money for Eviction Relief — Do Something!

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is in the midst of a housing eviction crisis arising from the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 epidemic. Here in Virginia, governments have responded through three major initiatives: The federal government distributed one-time $1,200 stimulus checks to American households and funded a $600-per-week supplement to state unemployment benefits through July 31. And Governor Ralph Northam has allocated $62 million to help families facing evictions.

With all that public assistance, how it is possible that tens of thousands of Virginia families are on the brink of being thrown out of their houses? Nearly 2,000 eviction judgments were rendered in Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield counties alone in September and October, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

One answer is that the people who need the money aren’t getting it. The federal government managed to blast out its stimulus checks, but Virginia’s unemployment insurance agency has been overwhelmed by the spike in unemployment and can’t keep up. As Don Rippert pointed out a week ago, 70,000 Virginians had yet to receive their unemployment checks. Now we find out that the Northam administration has dispensed only $33.6 million of the $62 million set aside specifically for eviction relief. Continue reading

What About Those Folks Facing Eviction, Governor?

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

In his July 24 letter to the Chief Justice, the Governor requested the Supreme Court extend its moratorium on evictions.  He concluded his request by saying, “This [the moratorium] will provide my administration the time to both work with the General Assembly to develop and pass a legislative package that will provide additional relief to those facing eviction and to expand financial assistance for tenants through our rent relief program.”

So, now that the General Assembly is in session, what has the Governor done for those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are facing eviction? The answer is: (1) some help in delaying evictions and (2) no help, so far, in getting the money needed to pay the rent. Continue reading

A Constitutional Approach to Avoiding Evictions in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

There has been extensive discussion here about minimizing residential evictions in Virginia in the time of COVID. I will offer a constitutional approach to achieving that objective.

A Broad Consensus

The Governor and General Assembly want to avoid evictions of residential tenants who are unable to pay rent due to COVID-related issues beyond tenant control. So does every landlord in Virginia. And indeed I think every citizen. We have broad consensus on that point.

The Democratic Governor and Democratic majorities in both houses of the General Assembly can do whatever they wish with legislation. In this case they may wish to create a temporary, COVID-related rent payment program.

But they will have to pay for it, as opposed to asking landlords to eat the costs.  That seems to me a valid and effective use for federal COVID money.

And the executive branch will have to administer it, not the courts and not the landlords.

Continue reading

Another Perspective on Evictions

A more realistic depiction of an eviction

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

As has been reported on this blog, the Virginia Supreme Court granted Governor Northam’s request to extend the moratorium on evictions related to non-payment of rent.

The court was closely divided, 4-3. The dissenting opinions are quite convincing. It is obvious that the majority, cognizant of the dilemma caused by thousands of tenants out of jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and facing eviction from their homes, decided to give the Governor, General Assembly, and (implicitly) Congress one more chance to come up with a solution.

Evictions generally

Rather than debate the merits of the Court’s decision,  I am largely responding to, and following up on, Jim Bacon’s recent post regarding evictions and what happened to the federal CARES funding that has been provided. Continue reading

Renters Didn’t Make the Governor’s List

by James C. Sherlock

I just completed a survey of the 50 states to see how many of their legislatures were in regular session or special sessions called to deal with COVID issues between April 1 and August 15, 2020.

That 4.5-month period started when enough was known about COVID to start taking legislative action to back up Governors’ emergency decrees. It ends just before Virginia’s General Assembly will convene in special session to deal with COVID-related measures and other issues.

Thirty-eight of the 50 state legislatures have been either in regular session during that period or in special sessions called to deal with the COVID emergency.

Virginia is one of the 12 whose legislatures have not been in session. The others are Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and West Virginia. Continue reading

Fool Me Once

By James C. Sherlock

I want every tenant who cannot pay his rent because of COVID to be able to stay in his home. I want every landlord who supports them to be paid for their forbearance so they can pay their own bills.

This post starts with both of those goals in mind.

It is about a Governor and a Virginia Supreme Court who created horrible judicial precedents that never needed to happen.

Jim Bacon’s column this morning well summarized the issues with the Virginia Supreme Court’s August 7 order: IN RE: AMENDMENT OF EIGHTH ORDER EXTENDING DECLARATION OF JUDICIAL EMERGENCY IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 EMERGENCY.

That order reimposed until September 7 a previous Supreme Court denial of residential landlords’ access to the courts to gain adjudication of unlawful detainer actions by tenants accused of failure to pay rent and it banned eviction orders on that same basis.

The Governor and the General Assembly

Governor Northam has been hesitant to call the General Assembly into session because he cannot ultimately control what legislators do when they meet. Republicans and some Democrats appear poised to try to limit, especially in duration, some his virtually unlimited emergency authorities under Virginia law. When written, the drafters of that law simply did not imagine an emergency that would last for more than a month or two.

Continue reading

No Equal Justice for Landlords

The Virginia State Supreme Court extended yesterday the judicial moratorium on eviction proceedings for another 28 days. The split decision prompted a blistering rebuke from D. Arthur Kelsey, which L. Steven Emmert summarized yesterday in the post below, republished here from his blog, Virginia Appellate News & Analysis. — JAB

Today the court responds to the Governor’s request for reimposition of the judicial moratorium on eviction proceedings. A bare majority of the court grants that relief, suspending the issuance of writs of eviction from August 10 (that’s next Monday) through September 7, a period of 28 days. The moratorium only applies to writs sought for nonpayment of rent; a landlord can still evict a tenant who has breached a lease agreement in other ways.

With two exceptions, all previous judicial-emergency order have been unanimous. The exceptions are the first, issued March 16, where the chief justice acted before he could consult his colleagues; and the June 8 modification to the fifth order. That one cites “the agreement of a majority of the Justices of this Court,” and also suspended writs of eviction, among other landlord remedies. The order didn’t state which members of the court didn’t go along.

Today the court names names. Justice Mims signs the two-page order for his colleagues, Justices Goodwyn, Powell, and McCullough. This majority notes that the pandemic fits the definition of a disaster, since the Code defines that term to include a  “communicable disease of public health threat.” It goes on to note that that statute is triggered when the disaster substantially impedes the ability of citizens to avail themselves of the court system. The court accordingly does as the Governor had requested, in the terms that I mention above. Continue reading

With All the COVID-Relief Money Flowing, Why Is There an Eviction Crisis?

by James A. Bacon

We’ve been living with the COVID-19 epidemic in Virginia for more than four months now. Given the fact that hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens have lost their jobs, it should not surprise us that some have had trouble paying their rent.

But I am surprised to read that Virginia is in the midst of a full-blown eviction crisis. Apparently, there is a backlog of more than 12,000 eviction cases in the courts. The Supreme Court of Virginia suspended eviction hearings in the early weeks of the epidemic, but let eviction proceedings resume May 18.

“People who did all the right things, who worked and were able to pay their rent and their bills have found themselves our of work and also out of money,” said Governor Ralph Northam in June. Now spokesmen for the poverty lobby are warning that thousands of people could be thrown into the streets, exacerbating the public health crisis.

There very well may be a genuine problem here. I’m not denying that. But there is more than meets the eye to this eviction crisis, and taxpayers should demand an explanation. Continue reading

New Houses for $150,000

by James A. Bacon

It remains an eternal mystery why it costs in the realm of $250,000 or more per unit to build apartment buildings for the poor in the Richmond region. The Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority is delivering five new houses on their own lots near downtown Danville, for a sales price as little as $130,000.

According to a feature article published by Virginia Community Capital (VCC), which helped finance the project, the homes sit on large lots and have brick foundations, covered front porches, driveways and carports. The houses have low operating, maintenance and utility costs. Buyers can choose finishing touches such as granite countertops and hardwood floors, which could push the sales price up to $150,000.

The cost of housing in this project is still far cheaper than anything that public housing authorities can deliver in Virginia’s major metropolitan areas. The secret: Danville is using manufactured housing. Continue reading