Virginia’s pandemic rent relief program gets $160M boost; mortgage relief program going away

Virginia is getting more than half a billion dollars in new federal housing assistance, and is immediately putting $160 million of it toward the state’s rental relief program, which aims to save renters from a “rent cliff” of unpaid bills during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced the additional funding Tuesday in Arlington, saying the state was already facing an eviction crisis that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“The pandemic has not been easy on anyone, but it’s been devastating for a lot of people who are really struggling to keep a roof over their head,” Northam said. “For any Virginian having a hard time paying the rent because of the pandemic, I really urge all of you to act quick, talk with your landlord and seek rental assistance.”

Overall, the new federal rental relief funding totals $524 million and comes from the most recent round of federal coronavirus relief money.

The new funding does not include new assistance for homeowners seeking mortgage relief, and the state will no longer accept such applications, Northam said.

Since the start of the program last spring, “The majority of applications have been for rental assistance,” Northam said. “We’ll look to other federal programs to assist folks” with mortgage relief.

Virginia was one of the first states to launch a statewide combined rent and mortgage relief program last spring to help people stay in their homes, Northam said. Landlords can also file applications on behalf of their tenants, and legislation passed last year requires landlords to cooperate with tenants on accessing rental relief before any eviction proceedings can go forward.

With the new funding announced Tuesday, the state is expanding rental assistance for a longer period of time: Tenants are eligible for help with unpaid rent going back to last April and for up to three months of future rent payments — for a total of 15 months of assistance.

Tenants and landlords can call 211 or visit dhcd.virginia.gov/eligibility to see whether they’re eligible. (Fairfax County operates its own rental assistance program).

Since June, Virginia has paid out nearly $84 million in rent and mortgage payments, according to state figures.

Carmen Romero, with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, said Virginia’s rent relief program has been a “godsend” for her organization, which is a nonprofit landlord.

In particular, the launch of the landlord portal, through which landlords can file applications, has been a “game-changer,” Romero said, because it streamlines the process and shifts the burden of filing paperwork from tenants to property managers.

Since November, when the landlord portal launched, the organization has been able to access $1.2 million in rent relief for its tenants compared to about $700,000 from March to October, she said.

“People had huge balances accruing and were facing kind of a rent cliff at the end of the pandemic,” she said.

Most of the families in Arlington receiving benefits “have never needed financial assistance before,” Romero said. “These are working families that have never needed anything like this.”


More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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