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WV Housing Groups Brace for Evictions as Courts Reopen

Advocates for renters in West Virginia are already seeing an uptick in evictions since the pandemic began, and expect to see a rise in first-time homelessness as a result of job loss. (Adobe Stock)
Advocates for renters in West Virginia are already seeing an uptick in evictions since the pandemic began, and expect to see a rise in first-time homelessness as a result of job loss. (Adobe Stock)
June 5, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia's court system has reopened, after being closed to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. Now, advocates for renters are bracing for a flood of evictions, from people financially strapped because of job loss in the pandemic.

Ellen Allen - executive director of Covenant House, a homeless shelter and resource center in Charleston - says it's too soon to see an overall rise in evictions, since housing courts reopened just three weeks ago.

But her center was swamped with eviction cases from March to May. She says Covenant House is also getting many calls from people who have never before faced eviction - until this month.

"I think you will see homelessness increase, and they would be new homeless," says Allen. "People who were used to living paycheck to paycheck. But now, because of a partial economy, I think we're going to see more people experience homelessness for the first time."

This week, the West Virginia Community Action Partnership received a grant from the Veteran's Administration of over a million dollars to provide housing services for homeless and evicted veterans.

Legal Aid of West Virginia also is offering help to people facing eviction. Start online at 'LAWV.net.'

Allen says much more government funding is needed to tackle the rise in homelessness expected from the pandemic. She says her group alone has seen its caseload rise by about 25% since March, and they're still waiting on federal dollars to support the extra cases and continue their work.

"We need federal housing assistance money to flow into our communities," says Allen. "That's what communities need. If we're going to build a resilient community and economy during and post-COVID-19, this housing money needs to flow."

From 2000 to 2016, West Virginia had a 3.5% eviction rate, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. The town of Berkeley Springs in Morgan County had the highest rate in the state, at about 15%. Rates in Martinsburg and Middleway are over 10%.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV