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VA Leads Nation in Federal Rental-Assistance Distribution


Wednesday, September 15, 2021   

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia has distributed a larger share of the rental funds it received than any other state in the country, and housing advocates want to see the state continue the trend with more protections for renters.

Since January, Virginia has distributed more than $300 million of its $524 million from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said that's due in part to Virginia being one of the first states to set up a rental assistance program in June 2020 through the CARES Act.

"Nothing helps as much as having a rental-assistance program so that when people lose their jobs, when people have an unexpected expense, they have somewhere to turn to fill the gap and to pay their rent," she said. "No change in the law is going to do that, except having this fund continue."

Virginians in need of help paying rent can determine their eligibility and apply online on the state's Department of Housing and Community Development website.

Marra and other advocates have suggested it took being "shamed" for Virginia to become a national model for rental assistance. A 2018 report from Princeton University's Eviction Lab found five of the 10 largest cities with the highest eviction rates in the country are in Virginia. Since then, the state has enacted more safeguards for renters.

Kathryn Howell, co-director of the RVA Eviction Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University, said it's a good start, but more can be done.

"Investment in counsel - and in fact, even a right to counsel - I think could be a really powerful way of making sure those tenants who have rights know how to exercise them, because it's really hard as a tenant to know all the things," she said. "They're not experts in housing law; they're not experts in understanding eviction and what rights they have."

Virginia is receiving an additional $465 million in rental assistance through the American Rescue Plan.

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