Eviction Filings After the Pandemic-related Eviction Moratoriums
Prepared by Scott Andrews-Weckerly
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal and state governments instituted policies that helped people who might otherwise be evicted remain housed: the former with rent relief funds and the latter with an eviction moratorium. As one local expert calls it, “our flirtation with socialism” had dramatic effects, bringing evictions almost to a stop. But, as the worst of the pandemic wound down, so too did the temporary measures. The federal rent relief program stopped taking new applications in May 2022, and the eviction moratorium ended in July. The result has been an accelerating increase in eviction filings -- greater than 200% in the months immediately before and after the moratorium’s expiration, according to the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. Beginning in late July, staff of the Community Foundation either met or corresponded with representatives from each of the area’s indigent legal services agencies, the City’s Office of Community Wealth Building, The Commonwealth Institute, and ACTS to gather from them what the current state of regional evictions is, how close the experts believe the issue is to its next equilibrium point, and how the Community Foundation could leverage its resources well.
The number of evictions is approaching 2019 levels with the added complication that rental rates rose significantly over the last two years without commensurate income gains. All respondents agreed that the Pandemic’s policy interventions were gamechangers, and that the number of evictions is approaching 2019 levels, with the added complication that rental rates rose significantly over the last two years without commensurate income gains. Said differently, landlords appear just as quick as ever to file evictions, but, because of the disparity between income and rents, it’s easier to fall behind than it was before COVID, when Richmond already had one of the nation’s highest eviction rates. On the question of equilibrium, where evictions spiked from before to after the moratorium’s end, some respondents believe filings are now moving from “accelerating” to “steady but high,” with a handful of law firms and apartment complexes accounting for most of the cases. Within the systems that either prevent evictions from being filed or divert legal cases before tenants lose housing, it is clear from our conversations that each are trying to find new equilibrium points as players adjust to fewer resources, changed operations, and secondary trauma. Nevertheless, our interlocutors were able to identify interventions that may be helpful once the dust settles.
Both prevention and diversion could benefit from more robust systems of disseminating accurate eviction-related information quickly, reliably, and strategically. With respect to community organizing and education, it’s clear that both prevention and diversion could benefit from more robust systems of disseminating accurate eviction-related information quickly, reliably, and strategically. Whether it’s letting people know how they can access prevention resources before a case is filed or navigate the legal process in ways that exercise their rights fully, getting the right information in the right hands at the right time is labor-intensive and responsive, not proactive. On the legal front, two interventions surfaced as suggestions. The first was the placement of fulltime, dedicated attorneys to the housing court docket, so that anyone facing an eviction would have an attorney nearby to advise their case. The second suggestion was more “upstream” from the first, with representatives the Virginia Poverty Law Center desiring to spend more of their resources advocating for a regional “right to counsel” in eviction cases, that, in other jurisdictions, has dramatically increased the number of tenants who are represented by attorneys and changed the practices of landlord counsel who are otherwise accustomed to litigating evictions uncontested. Finally, on the eviction prevention front, the Community Foundation’s convening power could be exercised to streamline a system that welcomed new players and saw massive expansion during the execution of federal rent relief, but that is now contracting in unclear ways.
Community Foundation staff entered this assignment seeking to find a small number of meaningful and cost-effective interventions they could champion with the foundation’s stakeholders. While solutions like underwriting an attorney fellow’s assignment to housing court seemed promising during our conversations, it’s clear across the board that leaders and practitioners in the field need a bit more time to determine the new normal before the foundation’s financial resources would be optimally spent. In the meantime, solutions like helping broker relationships among eviction prevention providers may be possible, especially if localities are willing to step into the breach left by federal money going away. The team will be closely monitoring developments across the eviction landscape, particularly as they prepare for the 2023 discretionary grantmaking season.
The Community Foundation recognizes the following organizations as reputably making an impact:
ACTS | The Commonwealth Institute | Virginia Poverty Law Center | Central Virginia Legal Aid Services | The City of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building
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