Every day, our Fellows are on the frontlines delivering critical legal services to those who need it most. The work our Fellows do is critical to thousands of people across our country, and we’re committed to supporting and elevating their important work during this challenging time.
The coronavirus outbreak, also known has COVID-19, has already had a devastating effect on the economy, forcing many businesses to lay off workers and/or reduce working hours for their employees. With more than 50% of Americans already living paycheck to paycheck, many are concerned about how they will be able to pay rent in light of recent changes to their financial situation.
The Equal Justice Works Housing Justice Program has been working hard to meet the needs of thousands of low-income tenants in Richmond, Virginia, which has the second-highest rate of eviction among large U.S. cities. Fellows and Community Organizers in the program are providing additional supports and resources to residents in Richmond in the midst of these uncertain times.
On March 13, Housing Justice Program Fellows and Community Organizers, together with their colleagues at Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (CVLAS), Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), and Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) collectively sent letters to the Mayor of Richmond, the CEO of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and the city governments and Housing Authorities of Hopewell and Petersburg, Virginia, urging them to take drastic action and pause all eviction proceedings, foreclosures, and planned utility cutoffs. These legal services organizations also requested that the city of Richmond keep the cold weather shelter open beyond mid-April and create a new shelter bed space for those who are homeless.
“Now more than ever, it is crucial that people not be displaced: their health and the health of our community depends on the stability of housing for low-income tenants who are especially likely to be affected by this crisis,” said Palmer Heenan, 2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow at Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.
As a result of pressure from Fellows, Community Organizers, and other housing advocates, Virginia announced on March 17 that it would freeze all evictions and order its courts to halt all non-emergency proceedings for at least three weeks, in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Following the announcement, advocates sought clarification from the Supreme Court of Virginia as to whether this order applied to eviction proceedings. While the Court has indicated that evictions proceedings would be “suspended for the duration of the order,” some jurisdictions are still proceeding with executing evictions in Virginia, including the City of Richmond. CVLAS, LAJC, and VPLC are continuing to urge housing providers in Virginia to stop filing unlawful detainers, issuing pay or quit notices, and seeking writs of eviction until the coronavirus crisis has abated.
“We are grateful for the swift action taken by the Supreme Court of Virginia and many lower courts to suspend evictions,” added Palmer. “We look forward to pursuing additional relief for tenants in the Greater Richmond and Tri-Cities area as we all come together to confront the multitude of impacts COVID-19 has had and will continue to have on our community.”
The Housing Justice Program is continuing its efforts to help protect the health and safety of residents in Richmond, with Fellows and Community Organizers advising clients over the phone and through email, and organizing food distributions and other essential goods for the communities they serve during this difficult time.
To learn more about the work of our Fellows in the Housing Justice Program, click here. The Housing Justice Program is made possible thanks to the generosity of The JPB Foundation.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that people not be displaced: their health and the health of our community depends on the stability of housing for low-income tenants who are especially likely to be affected by this crisis.
Palmer Heenan /
Equal Justice Works Fellow