Charlottesville and Richmond attorneys encourage Governor Northam to establish additional eviction ban

Attorneys raise alarm over eviction crisis

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Many believe evictions will be a devastating symptom of this time of financial hardship, especially since the governor’s ban on them is no longer protecting people from losing their homes.

Based on courtroom records from the Legal Aid Justice Center, there have been over 2,300 evictions statewide in the past month since the moratorium ended. The center expects that thousands more will lose their homes unless the governor takes further action.

“We are still asking the governor to issue an executive order to stop evictions, the book stops with him,” Legal Aid Justice Center Attorney Elaine Poon said.

Back in late May, the supreme courts briefly allowed evictions to be heard in courtrooms. “Those few weeks, and you know I’ve done legal work for a long time, were probably one of the most frightening weeks that we’ve seen as legal aid attorneys,” Poon said.

Governor Northam quickly came to the rescue with an eviction moratorium that lasted through the month of June. But now, that protection is gone and the unemployed population is in trouble.

Poon anticipates people of color will be disproportionately affected by the crisis. “There’s a lot of data already coming out about how communities of color are being hit so much harder than the rest of the nation and the rest of Virginia,” she said.

Phil Storey with the Virginia Poverty Law Center says this issue is nothing new and that the cards have been stacked against so many Virginians for years. “This pandemic and the economic collapse really supercharged the crisis that we already had,” he said.

The closing of courtrooms due to the coronavirus also caused a major back-up in eviction cases in courts across Virginia. Now, they will have to hear over triple the amount of cases within the month.

“It’s hard for me to imagine how the courts are going to be able to manage 70,000 cases in a month when the most they’ve done in the past is 18,000 cases in a really bad month,” Storey said.

Poon says she knows what needs to happen to save Virginians from the horrors of eviction and that it all starts with the governor issuing a new executive order. “That can happen immediately, with one pen stroke and that is what we are asking for,” she said.

Charlottesville is trying to keep people from losing their homes through this pandemic through a new $792,000 relief fund. The fund will provide short-term financial assistance to tenants and landlords in the city in the form of rent payments.

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