By Carly R. Wright, Staff Editor
Last year, the New York Times published a Princeton University study on eviction rates in the U.S. that revealed something troubling: The City of Richmond had the second highest eviction rate in the country. In 2016, one in nine Richmond families were evicted through legal action and one in five were threatened with eviction. Moreover, over 30% of Richmonders receive an eviction notice in any given year.
Troubled by these numbers, Richmond Mayor Levan Stoney proposed a solution early this year: a Diversion Eviction Program.According to Mayor Stoney, this program provides evictees with a “clean slate” by helping tenants avoid an eviction on their rental history while guaranteeing landlords are paid back the money they are owed using a payment plan. Eligible tenants may receive financial assistance in paying back money owed to landlords. The program utilizes pro bono attorneys who act as mediators between tenants and landlords, and provides mandatory financial literacy courses. Tenants are eligible for this program only once, and would be able to stay in their homes while paying their rental debt.
Richmond City Council recently approved a $485,140 grant to finance the program. The grant goes towards Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), a nonprofit fair housing organization, who will implement and oversee the program. The grant will also be used to help families facing evictions pay off up to 50% of their arrearages. To qualify for the Diversion Eviction Program, a tenant must only have two late payments in six months, or three in twelve months. They must pay 25% of their back rent when the court hears their case, followed by paying off the remaining amount within 90 days, and paying monthly rent on time. The landlord must also agree to participate.
This program could prevent not only the evictions of vulnerable individuals and families, but the aftermath of them as well. Eviction leads to financial instability and the possible loss of government programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid benefits, because individuals do not have an address to put on applications. The loss of a permanent address has other far-reaching effects. When families are evicted, oftentimes they resort to homeless shelters for housing. When children have to get to school and the parent(s) do not have their own personal transportation, they have to ride the bus, even though a bus may not come to that shelter. Richmond Public Schools have had to adjust bus routes to accommodate for these children and ensure they get to school.
While only a small number of people will be reached through this program because of its prerequisites, it is a start to solving the eviction crisis in Richmond. While the Richmond program goes underway, the Commonwealth of Virginia has also passed a pilot program geared towards the same types of renters. On the list of cities with the highest eviction rates, Virginia held five of the top ten spots, and the legislation is set to improve these numbers. Although eviction is a complex issue with many causes and effects, the state legislature, along with organizations dedicated to fair and equitable housing, are working on solutions.
SeeEmily Badger and Quoctrung Bui, In 83 Million Eviction Records, a Sweeping and Intimate New Look at Housing in America, New York Times (April 7, 2018).
Sara McCloskey, Richmond On Track to Launch Virginia’s First Eviction Diversion Program, As State Works On Its Own, ABC News (May 30, 2019).
Jeremy M. Lazarus, HOME to Begin Eviction Diversion Program, Richmond Free Press (Sept. 6, 2019 at 6AM).
Sean Galvin, Richmond Tackles City’s Eviction Crisis with New Grant, The Dogwood(Sept. 18, 2019 at 2:23PM).
H.B. 2655, 2019 Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Va. 2019).
SeeEmily Badger and Quoctrung Bui, In 83 Million Eviction Records, a Sweeping and Intimate New Look at Housing in America, New York Times(April 7, 2018).