Lt. Gov. Fairfax leads panel on curbing high eviction rates in Va.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax joined state and local leaders on Tuesday to discuss ways to reduce the number of evictions across the Commonwealth.

The meetings in Newport News and Chesapeake come after an April 7 report in the New York Times that showed the results of a study by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

The study found five of the top 10 cities nationwide for evictions are in Virginia: Richmond (No. 2), Hampton (No. 3), Newport News (No. 4), Norfolk (No. 6), and Chesapeake (No. 10).

“It does signal a symptom of a larger problem that there are issues around people being in a position to even face evictions,” said Fairfax. “We know one eviction is too many.”

Michelle Purcell-Griffin says she wanted a seat at Tuesday’s roundtable to show state and local leaders that good people fall on hard times.

Purcell-Griffin says she was evicted from subsided housing in Newport News in 2016 after her husband fell ill and the couple could not afford their rent.

“I found it very disheartening and humbling that you are a lot of times judged,” she said. “The help may not be there because you will not reach out for the help.”

Politicians, city staffers, members of academia, realtors, nonprofit leaders and other stakeholders all agreed that tenants do not have one place to turn for help when they face problems with paying their rent.

“It’s important to really have a one-stop clearinghouse for people to get information to try to prevent evictions,” said Fairfax.

Mary Bunting, Hampton’s city manager, raised concern about the accuracy of the Eviction Lab’s data. Bunting says researchers did not take into account residents who paid their rent late to avoid eviction.

“We think evictions are a concern regardless of the numbers … but we don’t think Virginia or Virginia’s localities should be unfairly labeled as higher in evictions than we already are,” said Bunting.

The group also stressed the need for higher paying jobs in the region in order for tenants to afford their rent even when they face tough times.

Fairfax says early intervention is also crucial to the tenants’ success so nonprofit organizations and other community partners can provide help and resources before anyone faces eviction.

“Higher wages along with financial education will solve the problem,” said Purcell-Griffin.

Fairfax says he expects a package of bills relating to eviction prevention to be submitted before the next General Assembly session in January.

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