Dozens of families saved from evictions due to city program

Published: Jan. 7, 2020 at 8:23 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Seventy-six families have avoided eviction in the city of Richmond since Oct. 1 thanks to a first-of-its-kind program in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Richmond Eviction Diversion Program was officially established in October and came about following The New York Times article stating “The River City” was the 2nd-worst city in the nation for evictions.

At a news conference Tuesday, city leaders and partners provided an update on the program and how its success has already impacted dozens of families.

"The Sheriff was there to actually evict us that day," said Sean Johnson, who went through the program.

Just two weeks before Christmas Johnson said a terrible feeling ran through his body.

“Just fear felt a little ashamed,” he added. “Just sadness because where were we going to go?”

Johnson hit some financial hardships; he wasn’t paid by his job for two months and therefore wasn’t able to pay his rent.

He was at the point of eviction when he heard about the Richmond Eviction Diversion Program and called up Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME) who stepped in to help.

“They paid 50% of what I had due and I had to pay 50%,” Johnson said.

As a result, the father of four and grandfather of five was able to avoid eviction and stay in his apartment.

"A owe handful of gratitude and thanks," he said.

It’s an emotion volunteers with the program have heard from 75 other families since it launched in October.

"That means we've prevented 76 life-changing upheavals that could have led to missing school, lost jobs and to health problems," said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

"This gives people that deserved second chance to be able to stay in their homes and at the same time, make the landlord whole," said Marty Wegbreit, Director of Litigation with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.

Over the last few months, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority has been the focus of many eviction issues and has put a freeze on evictions through January 31st.

"We’ve been able to assist 49 tenants in their community and helping them get their rent arranged to current status,” said Monica Jefferson, Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of HOME. “So we’ll continue to partner with RRHA going forward.”

“When the freeze took effect there were 89 judgments among the big six public housing communities,” Wegbreit said. “So 49 out of 89, well more than half, are being helped by the Eviction Diversion Program.”

However, there are certain requirements that need to be met before the tenant can move forward.

Some of those requirements include:

  • Coming to court on the court date and paying 25% of the amount due
  • Explain the reason for falling behind in rent
  • Be able to pay ongoing rent when due AND catch up on the back rent
  • Have a good rent paying record:

Jefferson added this program is a once-time assist meant to help get these tenants back on their feet and preventing this from happening again in the future.

“Tenants get the benefit of a clean slate, financial literacy education, referral resources, and landlords get the rent owed and avoid the expense of an eviction and locating a new tenant,” she said.

As of January, city leaders said the program is over one-third of the way towards its goal of providing 300 tenants with financial literacy and money management education.

"Every single time we divert an eviction we are helping to reduce poverty,” Wegbreit said. “That is a goal that everyone in the entire community can get behind."

“We still have a long way to go in ensuring everyone has access to quality, stable housing, but the Eviction Diversion Program has already allowed 76 families and individuals to stay in their homes,” Stoney said. “That’s a huge step in the right direction.”

The program is also on track to meet its goal to divert 300-500 evictions in its first year.

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