Hundreds of Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park residents could be at risk of losing their homes during the pandemic as local courts resume eviction hearings for the first time since March.
An order issued by the state Supreme Court allowed local courts to resume on June 29 eviction hearings not related to the nonpayment of rent, such as tenant lease violations. Since then, more than 400 eviction hearings have been scheduled in Prince William’s General District Court.
The move comes after Gov. Ralph Northam placed a three-month hold on eviction proceedings back in March. Housing advocates have warned the end of the evictions ban could lead to a homelessness crisis at a time when unemployment is high due to the coronavirus. Rev. Dr. Darrell King of VOICE, Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement, said the end of the evictions hold “means potentially tens of thousands of Virginians could soon be evicted from their homes.”
“This is not the time for families to be homeless or moving into overcrowded spaces with family or friends,” a VOICE press release said.
Local court systems have been given the authority to continue the stay on evictions, and Northam has urged General District Courts to continue the evictions ban on their own. But so far, only Fairfax and Arlington counties has followed the recommendation, according to a Virginia Mercury report.
Prince William Clerk of the Circuit Court Jacqueline Smith said last week that any order to continue the eviction ban in Prince William would need to be made by the Chief Judge of the Prince William Circuit Court Steven Smith. Smith did not respond to a request for comment.
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-2nd, of Woodbridge, has urged General District Courts across Virginia to comply with Northam’s request to continue the eviction moratorium. Foy, who is running for Virginia Governor in 2021, said that “more must be done to ensure economic stability and housing security in these unprecedented times.”
“Thousands of Virginians are losing their homes – in the middle of a pandemic – as evictions resume,” Foy said on Twitter.
Most of the eviction hearings scheduled in Prince William this month are backlogged cases that were filed before the statewide moratorium took effect, but some have been filed more recently. Prince William General District Court Clerk Rhonda Daley said last week that she anticipates an uptick in eviction filings as the courts begin to reopen.
Area landlords have not been able to pursue evictions since the moratorium began in March, and are “itching to file,” Daley said.
Northam announced the launch of Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program on June 29 which will provide $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to aid households facing eviction or foreclosure as a result of the pandemic.
Northam said the program “will help Virginians experiencing financial instability as a result of this unprecedented health crisis by preventing evictions and foreclosures and keeping Virginia families safely in their homes as we battle this virus.”
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org