Story at a glance
- Millions of Americans are out of work due to the spread of the coronavirus.
- Officials across the country are scrambling to find creative solutions to help people beyond the stimulus bill and temporary eviction suspensions.
- “Full rent forgiveness… is the only workable option,” says one renter.
Randall McGarry says it’s a dire situation for his colleagues in the restaurant business. “It’s important to note that before the COVID-19 crisis, many of us were already living paycheck to paycheck. Any solutions that push rent payments until later isn’t a real solution for us. We were barely making rent as it is — we certainly won’t make rent plus the backlog when (and if) our jobs reopen,” says McGarry, of Richmond, Va., who worked as both a manager and a server before restrictions due to the coronavirus closed restaurants nationwide.
“Full rent forgiveness… is the only workable option,” believes McGarry, who is worried about the negative impact of having an eviction on one’s record, “making it harder to find housing in the future.”
It’s a concern facing innumerable people nationwide. With a record 6.6 million Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week according to the U.S. Department of Labor, officials across the country are scrambling to find creative solutions to help people beyond the stimulus bill and temporary eviction suspensions.
In Richmond, which is ranked as having the second highest eviction rate in the nation behind North Charleston, S.C., President and CEO Heather Crislip of the nonprofit Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME) is concerned about the situation worsening. “We are anticipating that in the spring and summer we will see a tsunami of evictions….Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s eviction moratorium expires in May, and families also experience job loss and medical expenses. This will harm our ability to keep people socially distant and put potentially thousands at risk.”
Today April 2, in a letter to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney writes, “As many businesses shutter their doors to cut costs and lay off employees in hopes of salvaging revenue, economic uncertainty is at an all-time high… To accommodate for these losses, it is my hope that you will consider how to encourage forbearance relief programs for rent and mortgages to further assist Virginians during these financially challenging times.”
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Stoney continues in his letter to the governor, “I am appreciative and thankful for federal legislators crafting the most recent stimulus package, compromising on allocating $350 billion in small business loans, and the expansion of unemployment. Still, there is an opportunity to provide more protections for residents across the Commonwealth. Again, we look to states like California, and even New Jersey, who recently announced a 90-day mortgage payment relief package by collaborating with banking institutions to ensure a comprehensive statewide protection plan for their residents. Through offerings like a 90-day grace period for mortgages, no negative impacts resulting from relief, a moratorium on initiating foreclosure sales and evictions, and relief from fees and charges, many of their residents will see relief.
“This week, even though I do not have the local authority to mandate any of the above, I plan to start conversations with finance and banking leaders in the Richmond-region to work with them to find innovative ways to ensure the resiliency of our community. I encourage you to do the same with leaders across Virginia,” writes Stoney.
Jim Nolan, press secretary for Stoney, says, “We remain concerned that the COVID crisis has made a vulnerable population even more vulnerable. We appreciate the steps all have taken to ease the burden of housing on these residents during this difficult time, and will continue to work with all our stakeholders and housing advocates in the Eviction Diversion Program and Eviction Task Force — which includes landlords, tenants, legal aid and the courts — to support those facing housing insecurity now and in the future.”
In this time that brings uncertainty for the entire rental housing industry, National Apartment Association President and CEO Robert Pinnegar tells Changing America, the NAA understands that many residents will not be able to make their rental payments — through no fault of their own — but that, in turn, he says, “will have devastating implications for apartment owners and operators.”
Pinnegar shares this message, “To minimize the damage, NAA is urging those of our nation’s 40 million renters who’ve been financially unaffected by COVID-19 to make their rent payments in full and on time. Paying rent ultimately keeps people in their homes by ensuring housing providers can meet their own financial obligations and keep the entire apartment community afloat in these troubling times. Rent payments also allow us to keep properties staffed and actively managed to protect our residents from exposure to COVID-19 as a growing number of Americans fall under stay-at-home orders. We stand with our residents, developers, owners and operators as we navigate these challenging times, and encourage flexibility as we continue to work with policymakers and industry leaders to ensure apartment community needs are met.”
“We are absolutely in dire straits right now,” says Addy Cooley, a Richmond server and bartender. Cooley, along with McGarry and other restaurant workers, has started a fundraiser to help restaurant workers try to survive in the meantime. “Our entire industry is on the brink of collapse, and yet we are still somehow expected to pay rent or face eviction,” she says, hoping for a positive solution for everyone.
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