Evictions Forum in Arlington

 

Much ado has been made about Virginia’s high eviction rates since the publication of a New York Times article featuring data from the new Eviction Lab. The shocking data showed that Virginia has five localities in the nation’s top ten for highest eviction rates. While not one of the five localities, Arlington prides itself on being a diverse and inclusive place to live, and wanted to explore the eviction issue further to ensure that the County is doing its best to achieve the Arlington vision. On July 17, a forum was convened to hear from housing providers, both for profit and non-profit, and legal experts on the eviction process, prevention programs, and services.

The event began with an overview of the presentation from Kendon Krause, Chair of the Arlington County Tenant Landlord Commission, followed by a timeline of the eviction process in Virginia from Matthew Whitfield, Staff Attorney at Northern Virginia Legal Services. Then Jennifer Daniels from the County’s Housing Division of DCHD introduced the panelists.

They included: Michael Campbell, Property Manager at the for-profit rental community, Dorchester Apartments; Cindy Rozon, Assistant Director of Resident Services at the non-profit rental provider, AHC, Inc; Mary Kenion, Continuum of Care Coordinator for Arlington County; Saul Reyes, Executive Director of the tenant advocacy organization, BU-GATA; and Matthew Whitfield, Staff Attorney at Northern Virginia Legal Services.

More Communication and Prevention. The panelists shared information regarding their services, and how they work with residents facing evictions. Representatives from the rental agencies commented that they try to work with residents to avoid evictions, as the process leads to a financial loss for the owner. “Non-payment of rent comprises 95% of our evictions,” said Michael Campbell of Dorchester Apartments. Campbell also mentioned that there is not enough communication between landlords and tenants, suggesting that if tenants were more open with landlords about their financial challenges, they could work together to address the issue and hopefully avoid an eviction.  Cindy Rozon of AHC, shared their prevention program offered to residences at risk of eviction. When residents receive a “pay-or-quit” notice, they also receive a flyer with a list of support resources from the resident services office.

Arlington County Continuum of Care Coordinator Mary Kenion discussed the services offered by the County to prevent homelessness and evictions. Kenion shared that many times, evictions are not legal processes, but “love evictions” – loss of housing due to family disputes or overcrowding. The County has both a Crisis Response System to Prevent Homelessness as well as an Eviction Prevention Assistance program. Individuals must provide proof of Arlington residency, income and account statements, and the writ of eviction to access services. The services that are provided are tailored to the circumstances of the individual.

Saul Reyes provided background on BU-GATA, founded in 1992 to educate and train Latino leaders in low-income communities facing the threat of displacement. Reyes agreed that the level of communication between landlords and tenants is insufficient. In some communities, tenants often do not understand the additional rules associated with affordable housing as language may be a barrier, or it may be their first experience as a renter. As a result, tenants may unknowingly violate the lease agreement, which typically has stricter regulations than non-subsidized housing, putting them at risk for eviction. Better education and communication could help avoid potential anxiety between tenant and landlord.

The Q & A segment of the presentation was engaging and thoughtful. What happens when an individual has an unpredictable job or irregular work hours, or they have a chronic illness preventing them from working to earn money for the rent? What about tenants who are afraid of being open with their landlord for fear that their documentation status will come up?

At the end of the presentation, Nady Peralta, Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center, offered some ideas for next steps. The Campaign to Reduce Evictions (CARE), a statewide initiative, will develop potential solutions for Virginia, including recommendations from the legal services subcommittee working to establish solutions upon which both tenant advocates and landlords can agree. Lastly, Peralta shared that a reporter at the event was available to document personal eviction stories for the statewide eviction campaign.

The Alliance is pleased to see Arlington County take the lead locally in the evictions discussion, and hopes that other NoVA jurisdictions will follow with similar events in their own communities. At the state level, subcommittees from CARE are meeting throughout the summer, and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax participated in eviction forums in Richmond, Hampton, and Newport News. The Virginia Housing Commission is also looking closely at this issue, and has created a special work group to study evictions and potential ways to reduce them. On August 30th, CARE will host an event in Norfolk, and the data team will present more statistics regarding evictions in the Hampton Roads area. 

An important step toward lowering eviction rates is knowing HOW to lower them, so if you have information about successful programs, please share it widely!  Contact Christie Marra, the chair of the CARE initiative, at [email protected].