Tim Gruver/The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Gov. Ralph Northam is asking the Virginia Supreme Court to extend a ban on evictions until Sept. 7 amid thousands of pending cases, but some critics worry about the economic impact.
The ban was first implemented earlier this year to prevent Virginians from losing their homes because of the economic hardships caused by the shutdown over COVID-19. With hardships continuing statewide and the governor pulling back on the reopening of Hampton Roads, he has requested an extension.
More than 6,000 eviction cases are pending statewide. 1,978 of them are in Hampton Roads.
“Unfortunately, the public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are far from over,” Northam said in the letter. “A growing wave of eviction proceedings is particularly worrisome. There are concerning increases in COVID-19 cases in the Hampton Roads region, as well as spikes in other parts of the Commonwealth. I have directed my team to increase enforcement of public health mitigation measures to try to contain the increases in transmission, but the potential eviction of Virginians in such affected areas poses a significant public health threat.”
Northam said the rise in COVID-19 cases has made it difficult for Virginia to economically recover. If Virginians are evicted from their homes during the rise in cases, he said this also exacerbates the public health risk. He said he will work with the General Assembly on stronger protections for tenants during the upcoming special session, but said the court has to take action in the meantime.
Chris Braunlich, the president of the free-market, Virginia-based Thomas Jefferson Institute, told The Center Square this policy could have a damaging domino effect.
“We surely should have empathy for those in dire straits not of their own making, but the core challenge here is the downstream effects: landlords still have to pay their own creditors,” Braunlich said. “They still have to use rent dollars to pay property taxes, insurance, maintenance, financing costs of the property, and sometimes utilities. Few landlords can go long unable to replace non-paying renters with paying renters. And the taxes they pay, especially the local property taxes, are the things that finance the firefighters and the schools and the local social programs.”
Additionally, Braunlich criticized Northam for maintaining a restrictive reopening strategy that has prevented people from getting back to work, particularly in Hampton Roads.
The administration launched a rent relief program about a month ago that is designed to provide relief to tenants who cannot pay their rent because of COVID-19-related restrictions. Northam said many of the people facing eviction may be eligible for this assistance, but some are not aware or working to get this funding. He said some tenants may not be eligible for the relief because of federal restrictions.
The money from this fund goes directly to the landlord.
House Republicans declined to comment and Senate Republicans did not respond to a request for comment from The Center Square.