Liz Denson, assistant to Outreach and Mission at Christ Church, says a number of people are still struggling after Covid and living on very tight margins. These are people who are working. But she says if somebody gets sick and is out of work for a week, or there is a funeral or a baby, it can throw off earnings. Added to the dilemma is the rollback of supplemental SNAP benefits issued during Covid so there is less to spend just as inflation is driving costs up.
Christ Church’s Lazarus ministry program redirected its emergency in September 2022 to focus exclusively on evictions. Denson says the average amount given since September is $2,800 to pay full back rent, and they have helped 154 households avoid eviction. “The range of their requests is pretty wide from $5,828 max to $303 minimum.” Denson says the Lazarus ministry eviction assistance is targeted on families with children, and Christ Church has focused on sustainability; the household must have income to support themselves going forward. “But it is very difficult to tell a desperate person that they don’t qualify for the scarce funds available at Christ Church because they don’t have children.”
Melanie Gray, Director of Outreach and Mission at Christ Church, says eviction has reached a crisis level. “I feel like people aren’t paying attention. Things are heating up with 319 people who have court between today and June 29.” Gray adds that shelters are full and they are seeing people who are over 65, those with more mental health issues, and families needing shelter.
Gray says currently everybody has spent their funding to assist with eviction prevention. She says Christ Church got a generous grant of $100,000 from St. Alfred Street Baptist Church and another $57,000 grant from ACT for Alexandria in May. But these funds are all gone and the church doesn’t know when to expect more to come. Gray says the city is also out of funds and won’t receive more until the next fiscal year begins July 1.
Gray recommends the best way for people who want to help is to give money to ACT for Alexandria. ACT for Alexandria grants money to nonprofits to meet needs in the City and assists with coordination and forming partnerships.
“The hopeful thing I have seen through all of this is the way providers have come together is incredible,” Miller says. “For instance, somebody who needed $5,000 recently called a grantee provider but the provider could only help with $2,000. So it was an incredibly stressful situation. We put our heads together and someone else came up with the rest.”
Denson adds, “It’s really hard. We receive so many calls each week, and we have to tell the people there is no more money left at Christ Church.” She says the volunteers take the brunt speaking to everybody who calls. Now instead of answering calls one Monday a week, they have gone to answering calls every day. “It is very emotional. There is a lot of crying.” Denson says the homeless shelters are full and there is no money to put the evicted in hotels until a spot becomes available in the shelter. “What will people do? Some are living in cars and some have doubled up with other family members. And the cost of housing continues to rise.”
Mary Horner, Housing Justice Senior Staff Attorney at Legal Services of Northern Virginia said there is a dual crisis.
“First the dollars are gone. The state took over the Rental Relief Program which was the biggest bucket for rental assistance but it ran out. RRP stopped accepting applications in May 2022. She says Rental Relief Program continued to administer the fund until October 2022. Then abruptly it was gone. Some applications had been approved but the applicants hadn’t responded, and then the dollars ran out. Since the applicants thought they would be receiving the money, they were left holding the bag. She adds the City didn’t plan for that, and there were no dollars to cover the situation.
Second is the lack of legal protections Horner says. “It was changing rapidly during Covid — state, local, so many things changing — but it allowed us to keep people in their home. As of July 2022 almost all laws are no longer friendly.” There was a 14-day notice required before filing an eviction notice. Now it is back to a five-day notice. Horner says Federal law still applies to dwellings receiving Federal funds where the landlord is supposed to give a 30-day notice.
“We don’t have a magic wand when the money goes away but we can make sure they are following the law for the people we are seeing in court right now. Since June 2020, we have operated outreach tables outside the courthouse so people know their rights. This is still a pretty good barometer. We are hearing from people on a daily basis.” She says more and more people are being evicted for lower amounts. They just need to get through that next pay period.
The system is complicated and many of the instructions and informational materials are in English. People may not understand what to do or be afraid to appear in court. They are often desperate and can see no solution in sight. “Rent is increasing all the time and people are being pushed out by factors not related to them like a car accident or wages cut at their second job,” Horner says.
Another issue Horner has been addressing is expunging evictions from the renter’s record. An expungement is an action used to delete all court and police records and could wipe the slate clean for those with previous evictions. Horner says an eviction can be a blight on the tenant’s record and make it more difficult to find new housing since landlords do a background check, and they often view tenants with evictions as a bad rental risk.
She says the lawyers realized they had seen some of these people before and could look up their eviction history before the tenants came to court. “We try to complete the required forms while they are in court.” If you have been found not responsible, you can now expunge your record. She says they have been able successfully complete 700 expungements.
Horner said she invited local policymakers to observe court one day when she had 160 eviction cases. “I told them, ‘this is what an eviction court looks like for your constituents.’ If people who had decision making power knew more about the process, maybe we could get some important policy changes. One of these would be to return to 14 days notification.
“And we need more dollars.”
But she confessed, “It’s really hard. I don’t know when burnout is. I keep seeing boulders in front of me.” She explains, “Success is temporary with the need for affordable housing but the losses go so deep, so much heavier.”
The Eviction Process in Virginia
(1) Landlord issues written notice of lease termination. This is usually 5 days for unpaid rent.
(2) Summons issued with time, date and location for court hearing.
(3) Tenant must appear in court if they wish to challenge the case. If it is for unpaid rent, the tenant may be able to pay by the court date and avoid a judgment.
(4) If the judge rules for the landlord, they can take the next steps to evict you.
(5) The tenant has 10 days to appeal and will need to file the necessary papers and pay all rent owed.
(6) After a judgment the court asks for a writ of eviction and instructs the sheriff to schedule it.
(7) The sheriff will notify the tenant the date and time of eviction; notification must happen at least three days prior to eviction.
(8) Up until two business days before the eviction the tenant might have the right to pay everything they owe and stay in the home.
(9) Unless the court or landlord cancels the eviction, the sheriff will return on the date and time on the notice and physically remove the tenant and have the locks changed.
Information provided by Virginia Poverty Law Center
How To Help
Give to ACT for Alexandria. ACT for Alexandria is the Community Foundation and issues grants to nonprofit providers, https://www.actforalexandria.org/
This article originally appeared in the Alexandria Gazette Packet. http://www.alexandriagazette.com/news/2023/jun/21/eviction-nears-crisis-levels-city-alexandria/