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Halt Evictions During Outbreak, Say Housing Advocates

creighton court
Creighton Court in Richmond (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

As of Friday, 30 Virginians have tested positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus disease. Richmond housing advocates are responding to the pandemic by asking the city to pause all eviction proceedings until further notice. 

Mayor Levar Stoney made a city-wide recommendation on Thursday to delay or cancel large events. Following the announcement, three local legal-aid societies collectively sent Stoney a letter asking him to urge the city’s public housing agency to extend its existing eviction freeze. 

“And to ask landlords in general — private, publicly subsidized, ones who have gotten assistance from the city, state, and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund — to stop evictions and freeze foreclosures for non-payment,” Marty Wegbreit, the director of litigation with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, said. 

Currently, Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s moratorium is slated to end on May 1, 2020. It went into effect last November following increased scrutiny over RRHA’s high number of eviction filings. 

Late Thursday night, Richmond’s Department of Public Utilities responded to the request by announcing its suspension of all water and wastewater utility cut-offs to make sure residents can maintain proper hygiene. But advocates insisted that the city also reinstate previously disconnected services at no charge to customers. 

Among other things, the legal-aid societies also called on the mayor to keep the Annie Giles Resource, Richmond’s overflow homeless shelter near the city jail, open past April 15th. The emergency shelter only operates when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. 

As employers around the state are asking their staff to work from home, Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, said he’s concerned about the economic impacts the coronavirus disease will have on low-income residents who don’t have the privilege to telework. 

“Some people would have to stay at home, and then schools are closed, so, people have child care expenses that are going to be rising,” Al-Qadaffi said. “Things like that could lead to people not having enough money left over for their rent, and perpetuate housing instability.”

Wegbreit said housing advocates would like to see Gov. Ralph Northam take statewide action to curb nonpayment-related evictions and keep big utility companies from disconnecting services. He added that the freezes would help contain the disease, and ensure residents are safe. 

“Even if the governor cannot expressly do that, he has a bully pulpit,” Wegbreit said. “We need to make sure that people can self-quarantine; that people can reduce their social interactions; and that people have access to utilities — that money can be made-up, but people’s lives can’t be.”

Dominion Energy announced released a statement on Friday announcing that it's holding off on all electric service disconnections for nonpayment until further notice. 

Dominion Energy today provided the following statement regarding customer bills during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Our customers should not have to worry about losing service during this critical time," the statement said. "We know the communities we serve rely on us to provide an essential service.”

The Legal Aid Justice Center, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society and the Virginia Poverty Law Center also sent similar requests directly to public housing authorities in Hopewell, Petersburg and Richmond.