The FWD: Virginia Rent Relief Program Updates

Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News

The FWD #143 • 822 Words

How far has the Virginia Rent Relief Program come, and where does it go from here?

COVID-19’s impact has been felt across the Commonwealth, from rural Wythe County to urban Richmond City. And the need for the rental relief has remained steady as direct federal assistance has been slow to reach many families. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) recently released information on the utilization of RRP that gives a snapshot of households in need during the pandemic.

We covered the June 2020 launch of the Virginia RMRP, when local RMRP grantees were serving over 900 households within nine days of its launch. As of February 10, 2021, the RMRP has helped 21,135 households in Virginia, with more than 24,000 rent and mortgage relief payments processed. A breakdown of these households reiterates the story being told across America about who is struggling to stay housed during the pandemic.

  • 98% of those households were helped with rent payments
  • Over 69% included children under 8 years of age in their households
  • More than 52% of households identified as Black
  • Approximately 73% of assisted households had an income of 30% AMI or below
  • Average assistance for renter households was $3,212 and $5,084 for homeowners as of January 13, 2021

These numbers speak to what many experts have pointed to throughout the last year: that Black and Brown renters are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Mortgage forbearance laid out in the CARES Act has largely helped homeowners avoid housing instability and with renters largely in low wage jobs, the pandemic has continued to hit renters the hardest. And President Biden has extended the foreclosure moratorium and the mortgage payment forbearance enrollment window through June 30, 2021.

The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program has proven critical for Virginia renters.

In total, DHCD and Virginia Housing have deployed $62 million in federal CARES Coronavirus Relief Funds and an additional $21.7 million in Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars through the RMRP. Governor Northam’s proposed budget amendments have increased the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) FY 21 Budget by $15.7 million for RRP eviction prevention funding.

Additional federal assistance has arrived.

On January 5, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury made available $25 billion for emergency rental assistance (ERA). Virginia is receiving approximately $569 million of that total. Of the $569 million, approximately $10 million has been directly allocated to Chesterfield County and $34 million to Fairfax County, who will each administer their own programs, leaving $524 million to the Commonwealth. One hundred sixty million dollars ($160 million) will be immediately allocated to the state rental relief program.

Virginia RMRP is now Virginia RRP.

DHCD and Virginia Housing will administer the program statewide for all other localities as the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) and will no longer accept applications for mortgage relief as mortgage relief was not included in the federal ERA funding. Guidance states that the majority of funds must be distributed before the end of 2021, which leaves a tight timeline to assist households making 80% AMI or less. Delivery capacity and outreach to eligible tenants and landlords has been scaled up through a single statewide landlord portal and a single tenant portal (except in Chesterfield and Fairfax County) to better deploy these resources.

Since Chesterfield County and Fairfax County have elected to administer their own rent relief programs, Virginia Housing is no longer able to accept applications or amendments for assistance for residents in these localities. 

In Chesterfield County, the county’s Department of Community Enhancement will recommend to the Board of Supervisors later this month that funds be appropriated for a county partnership with local nonprofit, Area Congregations Together in Service (ACTS), to administer the Chesterfield Emergency Rent and Utility Assistance program (CERA). Ten percent (10%) of funding will be recommended to be set aside for Homeward to support homeless services and prevention in the county.

Fairfax County is directly administering their own program, with residents accessing assistance through Coordinated Services Planning and landlords through a dedicated landlord portal. Fairfax County residents will need to call Coordinated Services Planning directly for assistance, but the County will be exploring the development of an online application portal for residents as well.

Funding for housing stability has continued to increase.

Additional funding to assist renters was approved in the 2020 Special Session of the General Assembly with $3.3 million allocated towards an eviction prevention and diversion pilot program. Meanwhile, in mid-December of last year, Governor Northam proposed amendments to the 2020-2022 biennium budget that included the $15.7 million increase to FY 21 and another $25 million increase to the Virginia House Trust Fund for FY22. This brings the total 2020-2022 funding for the VHTF to $125.7 million.

This level of funding represents historic highs for funding housing in the Commonwealth, and we certainly are eager to see what is yet to come.

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