Much of Central Virginia will fall under a recent eviction moratorium extension.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a nationwide eviction moratorium that had expired July 31, putting millions of Americans at risk of homelessness.
Housing justice advocates across the country and locally had sounded the alarm that rising rates of infection caused by the COVID-19 delta variant still put renters at risk, while some landlords criticized the previous extensions.
The latest extension, which will protect most renters until at least Oct. 3, is more narrow than the previous efforts and only applies to localities experiencing “substantial” or “high” rates of COVID-19 community spread, as defined by the CDC’s tracker.
Per CDC data, Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, Greene and Orange are currently experiencing substantial or high rates of spread. The counties of Fluvanna, Louisa and Madison are currently experiencing moderate levels of community spread, likely not bringing them under the terms of the new moratorium.
However, according to the CDC order, if a locality that is not covered by the extension later experiences substantial or high levels of community transmission, while the order is still in effect, then that county will become subject to the moratorium.
If a locality currently covered by the order no longer experiences substantial or high levels of community transmission for 14 consecutive days, the order will no longer apply in that locality.
The extension buys more time for some of those behind on rent but President Joe Biden and his administration have cautioned that the latest extension is likely to face legal challenges.
Locally, groups such as the Legal Aid Justice Center are working to assist as many renters as possible with applying for rental relief assistance. The group has a dedicated phone line, (434) 326-4305, and the program’s email address is email@example.com.
LAJC attorney Victoria Horrock said they were encouraged to see the extension granted, which she believes will help offset a “tsunami” of evictions that were anticipated locally. This extension will operate much like previous ones, she said, but still requires some paperwork from tenants.
“For tenants, the biggest thing they need to know about this is that it’s not automatic,” Horrock said. “Much like the old order from the CDC, in order to be protected, tenants have to be eligible for protection and fill out a declaration that says they’re eligible because of their income requirements, although most tenants at risk of eviction are below them.”
Since the pandemic hit the United States, Horrock said there has been a web of intersecting protections, including a state requirement for landlords to apply for rental assistance on behalf of their tenants. However, that requirement expired at the end of June. Horrock said the LAJC is pushing for the state General Assembly to renew that requirement.
“A requirement that landlords apply would actually help a lot of tenants with long-term stability, whereas the CDC order is great but is more of a band-aid that prevents the immediate spread of COVID through evictions,” she said. “The CDC moratorium will only get tenants to October, and it doesn’t do anything to help people pay their rent, but these state protections could last the entire year until next summer and would help people actually get that rental assistance money.”
The LAJC also has plans to assist tenants when the moratorium finally expires.
On July 20, the Charlottesville City Council appropriated more than $1.9 million in American Rescue Plan funds to various city and community programs, including $300,000 for an eviction prevention program in partnership with the Legal Aid Justice Center.
The LAJC program will provide free legal representation for tenants facing eviction but, contrary to some reporting, LAJC staff have said the funding will not be enough to guarantee an attorney for everyone at risk of losing their home.
“Shelter is a basic human right,” Jeff Jones said in a statement on behalf of the LAJC following the allocation. “Safeguarding that right will require local, state and national action to expand access to affordable housing and to extend and expand legal protections for those facing homelessness or displacement.”
Virginia and its local governments ultimately will have access to about $1 billion in funds to help renters, according to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
On Wednesday, Rick Jones, of the Management Services Corporation in Charlottesville, sent out a press release pointing to the success of Virginia’s Rent Relief Program and lamented a lack of participation in the program from some renters.
Property owners associated with the company have been able to get about $1.5 million in back rent by way of the Rent Relief Program. However, either out of a misunderstanding on how the program works or other unknown reasons, Jones said that some tenants have not cooperated.
“Their failure to communicate with us and cooperate with our attempts to help them receive assistance is no different than someone knowing the dangers of COVID and still refusing the vaccine,” he said.