While Congress continues to debate a much-needed coronavirus relief package—almost nine months after the first one was passed—nearly 40 million renters nationwide might soon be forced out of their homes, as the Centers for Disease Control’s ban on evictions approaches its expiration date.
On December 31, the CDC’s eviction moratorium will end, and the supplemental protections passed by the state in November will weaken, leaving thousands of Virginians struggling to pay rent. Currently, Virginia landlords are only allowed to proceed with an eviction if tenants refuse to apply for local or state rent relief. Once the calendar turns, landlords will still be required to help tenants file for relief, but they will be allowed to file an eviction suit if a tenant is denied aid or does not receive it within 45 days.
“It’s unclear yet how effective that’s going to be,” says Emma Goehler, chair of the Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America’s Housing Justice Committee, emphasizing the numerous hiccups tenants may face throughout the relief application process.
And these protections will only last as long as there is government funding for rent relief. Once it runs out, struggling renters will have nothing to fall back on.
“The legislation wants to protect landlords, to make sure they’re able to get tenants in there who can pay,” says Caroline Klosko, a housing attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center, which has been taking on eviction cases throughout the pandemic. “[But] with the state of the rent relief funds, and the problems with administering it, that’s just dangerous.”
According to Klosko, it is currently difficult to gage whether another state or federal moratorium will be put in place, one that would prevent tenants unable to get adequate financial assistance from being kicked out of their homes.
“If the CDC moratorium is just allowed to run out and not be extended, or even if there is a several week gap between the [expiration] and Biden coming into office, we’re really worried about the effects, with COVID spiking in the wintertime,” she says.
The national ban on evictions has been crucial, explains Goehler. Since it went into effect on September 4, DSA and LAJC have helped many local tenants get their hearings pushed to January.
Even so, these prevention measures have not kept everyone in their homes. Since September, landlords have filed for 106 evictions in Charlottesville, and 16 people or families have been removed from their houses. In Albemarle, 230 filings have led to 41 evictions.
“The moratorium was never a perfect solution because it required tenants to know about it, and it also had a number of requirements that tenants had to meet to be eligible,” explains Goehler, pointing to the declaration form tenants must fill out and present to their landlord.
With winter weather making evictions even more dangerous, DSA and LAJC plan to continue to push for long-term solutions, including additional funding for rent and mortgage relief, and a moratorium on all evictions until the pandemic ends, says Klosko.
In the meantime, Goehler urges tenants facing eviction to show up to their hearings, as well as apply for assistance through the Charlottesville Community Resource Helpline (326-0950) and Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (703-962-1884).