Looming Eviction Crisis Accelerates Regional Collaboration
As state and federal moratoriums on evictions expire, an increasing number of people are finding themselves living on a fiscal cliff, some of them for the first time. Those most directly affected by the health, childcare and employment constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic may take years to recover from the financial hardship. The threat of losing their home only compounds the problem.
“We are in uncharted territory,” said Billy Poarch, Executive Director of Area Congregations Together in Service (ACTS), a local nonprofit that specializes in providing hope and assistance to those facing financial hardship and negotiating with landlords on their behalf. “In the past, we have been able to help individuals and families bridge the gap with payments of a few hundred dollars. The need is greater now because they haven’t been able to pay rent for months.”
Housing experts believe the eviction crisis will continue in waves as other short-term benefits run out. While local courts maintained a backlog of 2,000 eviction cases during the moratorium, as many as 13,000 new cases are likely to be filed in the coming weeks.
The Partnership for Housing Affordability, which introduced the Richmond Regional Housing Framework earlier this year, has stepped forward to assist those at risk of eviction with the creation of the Regional Emergency Rental Assistance Fund. The Community Foundation recently contributed $200,000 from the Central Virginia COVID-19 Response Fund, joining the City of Richmond, Henrico County, Chesterfield County, Bank of America, Bon Secours Richmond and The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation to raise $5.8M towards an initial $6M goal. However, the need continues and additional donations are needed. ACTS will provide centralized intake to receive funding and process applications for assistance, while also serving as a designated recipient of state rental assistance funds for the region.
“While we remain committed to a sustained effort and honest communication about long-term housing solutions, including eviction prevention and diversion, we must address the immediate need with a renewed sense of urgency,” said Laura Lafayette, on behalf of Partnership for Housing Affordability. “It’s one thing to be there with a band-aid, but our community needs a tourniquet at this point.”
In the first two week after Virginia lifted its stay on evictions, ACTS received 2,000 calls. Case managers work closely with both tenants and landlords to understand their needs and educate them about their options. Where state and local funds come with set criteria, philanthropic contributions to the Regional Emergency Rental Assistance Fund offer much-needed flexibility to support individuals who may fall through the cracks. For example, state funding disallows back rent for individuals in public housing, as well as utility assistance.
“Our work is collaborative by design and it is guided by the belief that without stable housing, everything else falls apart. In partnering with ACTS, we have identified a regional nonprofit with the right expertise, and we are investing in that. The best way to help our neighbors is to give them one number to call to receive the relief they need as efficiently as possible,” said Lafayette.
If you are interested in supporting the Regional Emergency Rental Assistance Fund, you may give directly to ACTS or make a grant recommendation from your donor advised fund noting ACTS as the grantee and the Rental Assistance Fund as the purpose. Or, if you know someone who may need assistance, please refer them to ACTS at 804-644-2401 or they can fill out an inquiry form here.
Update: Since this blog was published, this service provided support to approximately 700 families. This is less than anticipated because the moratorium on evictions was extended into 2021. The need continues, but our community has not yet realized its true impact.