ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Tens of millions of renters in the country struggling during the pandemic can avoid eviction for at least one more month.
The latest $900 billion stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump last Sunday included $25 billion for rental assistance and the extension of a national eviction ban through Jan. 31.
Approximately $900 million of the funds will go towards communities across Virginia, according to the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance (NVAHA). How much of the money will be dispersed in certain jurisdictions will be determined at a later date.
Meanwhile, it is a much-needed sigh of relief for housing advocates working in the trenches to keep families in their homes and stay afloat, despite the temporary extension on the eviction moratorium.
“Extreme relief, honestly, because every day we can buy time and make a difference. I’m also realistic in that it’s not the end all be all,” Christ Church Alexandria Director of Outreach and Community Melanie Gray told WUSA9.
Gray has been working with community partners to not only offer financial assistance to help with rent and avoid evictions but provide meals, medicine, diapers and other essential needs. Since the pandemic began, counselors from the church have fielded about 1,300 calls from families trying to make ends meet.
Realistically, Gray and other groups like NVAHA admit not everyone is taking advantage of the government's help, primarily because of how the message is being communicated.
Up to 40 million Americans were at risk of eviction this year if the economic status of the country remained dismal, highlighted by an Aspen Institute report in August.
It is estimated anywhere between 263,000 and 384,000 households are at risk of eviction in Virginia. NVAHA Executive Director Michelle Krocker said local governments have been so busy aiding that they have not been able to compute proper data, but she predicts thousands of tenants and landlords in Northern Virginia are missing out on funds meant for them.
“It is a challenge to get the information out in such a diverse multi-ethnic area,” Krocker said. “We have been working regionally to identify ways both written, social media, WhatsApp, advertising on radio stations, Spanish radio stations and other language radio stations.”
Krocker said not only are language barriers present, but some of the renters themselves are illiterate.
There is a need for more bilingual speakers to join efforts by housing and community development groups to help spread the message on government funding.
There is also some confusion about the notices.
“Some people understandably who are terrified of any kind of notice because they think it will be further additional information about evicting them. So, sometimes they don't pay attention to information that we're trying to get to them. We learned we need to engage trusted partners,” Krocker added.
In partnership with Legal Services of Northern Virginia, NVAHA created the Eviction Prevention and Housing Stability Toolkit for all stakeholders, including people worried about losing their house. It helps spells out tenants' and landlords' rights and information on eviction legalities.
The toolkit can also be printed and handed out to communities where families may face more evictions.
With the moratorium extended, tenants can show the Centers for Disease Control declaration to the landlord to stay protected.
Already under the current Virginia state law, landlords who own more than four units must offer renters the option of entering into a repayment plan before they can file an eviction suit.
Starting in January, landlords will also be required to apply for assistance directly on behalf of tenants facing eviction for non-payment of rent who have not applied to the program on their own.