Virginia has made another “top-10 in the nation” list. But this one is not one to be celebrated. Last spring, using national eviction data, researchers at Princeton University released eviction rate rankings of large cities in the United States. Cities in Virginia comprised five of the ten cities with the highest eviction rates. Those were Richmond (2), Hampton (3), Newport News (4), Norfolk (6), and Chesapeake (10). By going down a little further on the list to no. 15, one would find a sixth Virginia city, Virginia Beach.
These findings sparked a flurry of activity and commentary in the Richmond area, including Bacon’s Rebellion. The Center for Urban and Regional Analysis of VCU’s Wilder School set up a program, RVA Eviction Lab, similar to the Princeton program that produced the national report, to examine issues related to eviction in Richmond and has recently released a series of reports.
Perhaps most significantly, the General Assembly and the Governor have swung into action. Shortly after the Princeton report was issued, the Virginia Housing Commission took up the issue. The Housing Commission is one of those permanent legislative bodies established by the Code of Virginia for examination of specific areas. Its membership is drawn from both houses of the General Assembly. The commission recommended legislation dealing with about six primary issues. Those bills were introduced in both houses with a bipartisan set of chief patrons. So far, most of the bills have encountered no opposition, having been passed unanimously by the original houses in either their original or amended forms.
Because I know nothing about landlord/tenant law, I am not going to venture any analysis or opinion on most of the bills. However, one of them is not that technical and is probably the one of most interest. It would establish pilot eviction diversion dockets in the courts in Danville, Hampton, Petersburg, and Richmond. (HB 2655 and SB 1450). (This is the program that was the subject of Jim’s earlier piece in BR.) The goal of the pilot programs would be “to reduce the number of evictions of low-income persons.” As originally introduced, the bills were projected to have a fiscal impact, with the courts needing additional appropriation to implement the programs. However, a substitute bill for SB 1450 has been reported out of committee and the courts now feel it can be implemented without additional funding.
As for the Governor, he included $2.6 million in his introduced budget for FY 2020 to hire additional legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to people facing eviction. Experience has shown that evictions can be reduced when tenants are aware of their legal rights and have legal representation. The availability of an attorney would be helpful especially in situations in which the eviction is in retaliation for the tenant complaining about unsafe or unhealthy conditions or inoperable equipment such as heating or plumbing. The amount proposed by the Governor would be sufficient to hire an additional attorney in each Legal Aid office in the state.
An eviction often leads to homelessness. And homelessness is related to a myriad of social ills. Although these steps will not get at the root causes behind most evictions—low incomes and shortages of decent, affordable housing—they could enable a significant number of people to stay in their homes while they try to improve their lives, without infringing greatly upon the rights of property owners.
Richard W. Hall-Sizemore recently retired from a position in the Department of Planning and Budget.There are currently no comments highlighted.