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Local Groups Ask Governor to Add Funds to Rent and Mortgage Relief Plan

Alexandria-based New Virginia Majority and Tenants & Workers United on Wednesday continued their push for increased funding for Virginia’s Rent and Mortgage Relief Program.

Thomas Assefa, the organizing director for New Virginia Majority, said that tens of thousands of Virginians will be evicted from their homes. New Virginia Majority is requesting that the Governor increase funding for the rent and mortgage relief plan to the tune of $1 billion. The organizations also say that the governor can use his authority to stop evictions.

“The $50 million in the Virginia Rent and Relief Mortgage Program is not enough,” Assefa said. “There are close to 3 million renters in Virginia… and hundreds of thousands of tenants who face evictions.”

Ana Martinez of South Fairfax has lived in the area for 20 years, and in April spent six days in the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. Her husband got sick, too, and now that he has recovered he is unable to find work. Martinez is now three months behind on her rent and other bills, and said that when she was met with a wall of bureaucracy when she tried reaching out to Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning regarding the funds.

“These are difficult times for us,” Martinez said.

Martinez isn’t alone: unemployment in Alexandria has remained high even after the state moved into the third phase of reopening.

Assefa said that such confusion regarding the program is being felt across Virginia.

Northam announced the $50 million program last month. Funds from the CARES Act are distributed to nonprofit organizations and then turned over to landlords to cover lost rent. However, Assefa said that the program needs improvements, like a 24-hour hotline with multilingual assistance, a faster turnaround for payments and the weekly release of data to show how much has been awarded and where.

According to the program website:

The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) is designed to support and ensure housing stability across the commonwealth during the coronavirus pandemic. Depending on availability of funds and household need, the RMRP may provide financial assistance for rent or mortgage payments for eligible households. This includes financial assistance for rent or mortgage payments past due beginning April 1, 2020 and onward. Financial assistance is a one-time payment with opportunity for renewal based on availability of funding and the household’s need for additional assistance and continued eligibility.

Additionally, as previously reported, earlier this month Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring stated that lower courts can grant continuances on evictions and that there are a number of state and federal protections in place so that people can stay in their home during the pandemic.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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