Eviction fears prompt faith leaders to ask Va. Gov. Northam to intervene

Virginia faith leaders addressed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam at a virtual news conference on Sunday where they asked him to hold off on evictions so they can help inform residents about the assistance and protections in place to keep people in their homes who have been unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program has been in effect since late June, and it is designed to help people who have been laid off or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic pay their rent or mortgage. Residents can call 2-1-1 in Virginia to find out more.

Virginia’s moratorium on evictions expired on June 28.

Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), a group of 65 faith institutions in Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, said fear of having an eviction on their rental record drives a lot of residents to self-evict.

Rev. Kristen McBrayer, of Emmaus United Church of Christ in Vienna said as a result, residents are panicking.

“We’ve heard up to 58% of people self-evict because they are fearful of what an eviction on their record will do to future renting,” McBrayer said.

Saif Rahman, Director of Public and Government affairs the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Fairfax County said this happens because most renters don’t know they would most likely be eligible for pandemic relief.

“It’s an issue that is, across the board, an information issue. People don’t know that they have these rights, the judges themselves aren’t actually aware of some of the rights of renters, and therefore evictions are proceeding even though they aren’t supposed to.”

A high percentage of renters are people of color — and they’re disproportionately affected by housing instability due to the pandemic.

Rev. Dr. Keith Savage of First Baptist Church in Manassas said he sees it firsthand in his own congregation after the state’s eviction moratorium was lifted at the end of June.

“We’re hearing the same stories of people calling for rental assistance … who have reached out to the organizations, government organizations … in the African American, the Black communities, that they are going through the system but it’s just not working,” he said.

VOICE leaders said clear communication on rental assistance is imperative for everyone, but even more for residents with school-age children.

Rev. Dr. Darrell King of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Alexandria said evictions will be a blow to parents and children.

“If parents are being evicted out of their homes during that first quarter, that is going to severely hamper their children’s ability to be educated,” King said.

More than 70 letters have been sent to Gov. Northam to demand executive action to extend the eviction moratorium until the end of August.

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