With hundreds of residents facing eviction in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park this month, area lawmakers are urging the local general district court to halt eviction hearings for three weeks to allow more time for at-risk renters to apply for housing assistance.
Seven lawmakers, Dels. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-2nd, Del. Hala Ayala, D-51st, Del. Danica Roem, D-13th, Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st, Del. Dan Helmer, D-40th, Del. Luke Torian, D-52nd, and Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th, sent a letter to General District Court Chief Judge Robert Coleman Wednesday morning urging him to temporarily halt evictions until the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program can be fully implemented.
“We urge you to extend the moratorium for at least another three weeks to allow time for the Governor’s program to be implemented. We fear that if eviction proceedings are allowed to resume, families who otherwise could remain in their homes once the governor’s program is fully implemented will be evicted or will leave when they receive notice of eviction proceedings,” they wrote.
Efforts to reach Coleman for comment Wednesday were not immediately successful.
Gov. Ralph Northam launched the new housing relief program on June 29, the same day the state Supreme Court’s eviction moratorium expired. The program aims to provide $50 million in aid to households facing eviction or foreclosure as a result of the pandemic.
But some housing advocates have warned that many residents at risk of eviction are unaware of the new program and may be evicted, or “self-evict,” before they can access state aid. Lawmakers echoed these concerns in their letter to the judge.
“Nationwide, experience shows that more than half of renters simply move out when they receive these notices, rather than trying to fight the eviction … This is not the time for families to be homeless or moving into overcrowded spaces with family or friends,” they said.
Allowing families to be evicted, they said, “when we could wait several weeks to put a robust rent relief program into place, would further endanger their health and the health of the larger community and undermine their efforts to find jobs again and make their rent payments.”
VOICE, a coalition of Northern Virginia faith leaders, called on Northam last week to take executive action to stop evictions until the program can be fully implemented, pointing to a recent advisory opinion from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring that they say would allow Northam to temporarily stop evictions.
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam, said on Tuesday, however, that “an executive order in this specific case would likely raise legal complexities that would hinder the expediency needed to help Virginians.”
Northam has instead urged chief judges of General District Courts to consider extending the eviction moratorium at the local level, but so far, none have done so. In Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park, more than 400 eviction hearings have been scheduled since the state eviction moratorium ended.
“The most important thing is keeping Virginians in their home now and in the long-term. That is why the Governor put an initial $50 million into Virginia's comprehensive eviction and rent relief program, and why he continues to urge General District Judges to postpone docketing eviction proceedings,” Yarmosky said.
There are 101 eviction hearings scheduled for this Friday, July 24, for residents of Prince William County, Manassas or Manassas Park, according to court records.