Category Archives: Housing

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.

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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.

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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

Another Deceptive Article about Mortgage Discrimination

by James A. Bacon

Oh, brother, here we go again… Of the 14,700 mortgage applications submitted by black Virginians last year, 11.9% were turned down, reports the Virginia Mercury. By contrast, of the 70,400 applications from non-Hispanic whites, only 5% were rejected. The difference in acceptance rates cannot be attributed solely to differences in income, says the online publication. Racial disparities in loan denial rates exist at almost every income level.

The Mercury article does not state explicitly that the gap in rejection rates is attributable to racism, bias or discrimination, but it frames the issue as if it is. The article provides this assessment from Alex Guzmán, director of fair housing for the nonprofit group Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia:

In light of the protests triggered by the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the latest [Home Mortgage Disclosure Act] numbers take on added meaning because “homeownership is probably the most powerful way to rectify the racial wealth gap.”

And this from Bruce Whitehurst, president of the Virginia Bankers Association:

Speaking for myself as a non-Hispanic White, we have to think a lot more about why the differences are there. I just think we’re at this place where we need to address the structural issues. And I think it’s fair for anyone in the Black community to say, ‘What took you so long to figure out what we’ve known for a long time?’”

As always with racial disparities = racial discrimination stories, there is a lot less to these numbers than meets the eye. Indeed, if there is a guilty party involved, it is the media, in this case the Virginia Mercury, which cherry picks data to push a  left-wing Oppression Narrative that can serve only to inflame African-Americans’ sense of grievance and victimhood, and, thereby, discourage blacks from seeking mortgage financing! Continue reading

Bacon Bits: COVID-19 Heroes and Villains

Somebody’s got to do it. Linda Echols has driven school buses for Pittsylvania County for 48 years. At 75 years old, she’s at elevated risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. She is concerned about her safety when the school year starts back up this summer, but worries more about her students. In marked contrast to thousands of teachers from Virginia Beach to Fairfax County who are resisting in-person teaching this upcoming academic year, Echols is determined to stay by her post, according to this article in the Danville Register & Bee. “I have to pray and do it,” she says. “Somebody’s got to do it.” If Virginia public school children manage to get an education this year under the trying circumstances of the COVID epidemic, it will be due to unsung heroines like Linda Echols.

Unannounced inspections coming to a restaurant near you. How will Governor Ralph Northam enforce his emergency COVID-19 health-and-safety restrictions on restaurants and retailers announced earlier this week? The state will conduct unannounced inspections, with a focus on the Hampton Roads area where COVID-19 infections have increased in recent weeks, reports the Washington Business Journal. “If you own a restaurant or a business and you’re not following the regulations, your license will be on the line and we will not hesitate to take action if needed,” Northam said at a press conference Tuesday. Business groups have criticized the crackdown, saying they were not consulted in the drawing up of regulations.

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What It Is, Is Not Journalism

Photo credit: Bob Brown, Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I never thought that I would agree with Jim Bacon on the slant of the RTD’s news coverage, but an article on evictions today just really irritated me.

It was the usual article about activists demonstrating at the Richmond courthouse and protesting evictions. (At least the demonstration on Thursday was peaceful; no smashed windows, no pepper spray, no arrests.)  The article was a cut and paste job, recounting the familiar history of the how many evictions are pending and how a moratorium on evictions has been lifted. It concluded with several quotes from college-age demonstrators talking about the corrupt capitalist society. (I had another flashback to the 1960s). Continue reading

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

By Peter Galuszka

Back in the winter of 2015, Craig Vanderhoef, a former Navy captain, got a disturbing surprise in his mailbox at his retirement home near Afton in Nelson County. A letter from Dominion Resources noted that it wanted to survey his land for a new 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline.

On two occasions, he wrote the utility telling them no. Then he got another surprise. A sheriff’s deputy knocked on his door to serve him with papers notifying him that Dominion was suing him to get access to his property.

In short order, about 240 Virginia landowners were on notice that they too might be sued for Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The county sheriff was notified that he, too, was being sued, although it was an error.

Thus, the stage was set for one of the nastiest environmental and property rights battles in Old Dominion history.

It centered around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would run from Harrison County, W.Va. across the rugged Appalachians, down through some of the most peacefully bucolic land in the Virginia., to Union Hill, a mostly African-American community in Buckingham county and on into North Carolina, running through the Tar Heel state’s mostly African-American concentration along its northeastern border with Virginia. Continue reading

Evictions as the New “Monuments to White Supremacy”

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The City of Richmond took down the statue of Stonewall Jackson yesterday in the hope, in Mayor Levar Stoney’s words, of protecting the public and starting the healing process. But across town enraged demonstrators were one step ahead of the Mayor, having switched the focus of their wrath from Civil War memorials to housing evictions.

Marchers downtown chanted, “Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right!” and “Eviction is violence.” Apparently, the demonstrators got disorderly, although the Richmond Times-Dispatch account is unclear. Deputies deployed pepper spray, a window was smashed, and two people were arrested. One is left to deduce from the photograph accompanying the story (shown above) that violence occurred, or was threatened, at the John Marshall Courts Building.

What is clear is that the mob has moved on. It has found a new cause.

“I find this incredibly insidious,” said organizer Naomi Isaac. “Especially when our elected officials are congratulating themselves for taking down monuments to white supremacy on Monument Avenue while replicating those same monuments to white supremacy at the courthouse against people who are fighting against [evictions] and fighting against the way that’s affected Black people for generations.” Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Monument Avenue

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue, a double lane, tree lined thoroughfare, has been the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter campaign that has focused on the statues of several Confederate figures one the road, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

All are up for removal, but the same foot-dragging that has for years protected the statues that some consider racist is at work today. Protestors have torn down Davis and have defaced the rest. On Sunday night, they nearly ripped down the Stuart statue as two city council members urged that it be removed on an emergency basis.

Lee’s statue has been ordered down by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the effort has been tied up in lawsuits by several property owners. One claims either that the original deed that gave the state the site for Lee included language that it could not be removed. Other plaintiffs, most anonymous,  claim that removing the statues would hurt their property values and their special tax status.

If anything smacks of white privilege and entitlement, this is it. But for more perspective, this article in The Atlantic neatly sums up the history behind the statues and the Avenue, noting that the issue has everything to do with rewriting Richmond’s history and making a marketing play to sell expensive and exclusive real estate decades after the Confederacy was suppressed. Continue reading

Statement of the Virginia Apartment Management Association on Supreme Court Order Suspending Evictions and Access to Courts

by James C. Sherlock

I sought and received from the Virginia Apartment Management Association a statement on Monday’s Virginia’s Supreme Court order IN RE: FIFTH ORDER MODIFYING AND EXTENDING DECLARATION OF JUDICIAL EMERGENCY IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 EMERGENCY.

It took only an hour for Patrick McCloud, the CEO of VAMA, to generate the response quoted below. It is published with his permission.  He could have done the same thing for the Governor or the Supreme Court, had they asked.  Neither did.

Please note this is not a legal brief, but neither was the Governor’s letter.  If asked for a legal brief, the association’s lawyers would inevitably raised the issues that have been discussed on this blog.

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