State of Housing: Instability in the Commonwealth

State of Housing #9 • 1,099 Words

Editor’s note:
This is the ninth edition of our “State of Housing” series, which breaks down the HB854 Statewide Housing Study released this January. You can find previous posts in this series here.

The pandemic put already existing inequalities in the housing system into stark contrast.

The third part of the HB854 Statewide Housing Study includes eight chapters analyzing data on housing demand and needs across the Commonwealth.

In this edition, we’ll focus on Virginia’s trends in mortgage delinquency, eviction filings, and homelessness. Across Virginia, both low- and moderate-income households can face housing instability due to unexpected life circumstances. From job loss to a major health episode, a single event can have a long-lasting impact on a family’s ability to stay housed. 

COVID-19 had a serious impact on household budgets and housing security.

In May 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau began the Household Pulse Survey (HPS) to measure the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on American households. As of December 2022, the HPS has collected responses from nine “phases,” covering 51 weeks of the pandemic. This rich time-series data—which is available at the national and state levels—is a valuable tool for tracking how COVID-19 continues to impact Americans’ daily lives.

Throughout the peak of the pandemic (August 2020 to August 2021), the HPS showed that nearly a quarter of adults in Virginia had significant trouble paying for usual household expenses. These financial impacts had serious repercussions on housing payments and the real and perceived risk of eviction or foreclosure. Over that same timeframe, 30 percent of respondents who were behind on rent or mortgage also said that eviction or foreclosure was likely in the next two months, which amounts to roughly 100,000 Virginians (although the statistical margin of error for this subsampling is very high).

Why this matters:

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to emphasize the intersections of health and housing. Disease and health conditions can impact anyone, but for low- and moderate-income Virginians those health impacts can have knock-on effects for housing and economic well-being.

Mortgage delinquencies in Virginia have fallen well below pre-Recession rates.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) instituted a foreclosure moratorium on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-backed mortgages that lasted from March 2020 until July 31, 2021. In addition to the foreclosure moratorium, the CARES Act also provided for mortgage payment forbearance for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

These actions further decreased mortgage delinquency in Virginia to below 2% for homeowners more than a month behind on their payments. This stands in stark contrast to January 2008—the peak of the Great Recession—when mortgage delinquency was at a high of 7%. These decreases have followed similar patterns at the regional level, with many parts of the Commonwealth seeing recovery from 2013 to 2020. 

Why this matters:

Federal focus on homeowner stability after the Great Recession has continued into the pandemic. With fixed housing costs and increased equity, homeownership provides many Virginians with stability in times of personal and national crisis.

Federal and state protections helped reduce the Virginia eviction crisis, but the end of those protections is poised to bring about a whole new wave.

From 2000 to 2016, the eviction rate in Virginia remained several points higher than the national average — nearly 3 percentage points higher across two decades. The pandemic brought about major efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep Virginians stably housed as they weathered this global crisis. In March 2020, Governor Ralph Northam implemented a state moratorium on evictions which brought eviction filings down to a fraction of pre-pandemic levels. Fewer than 6,000 new evictions were filed in March 2020 and just under 900 in April 2020—a far cry from the nearly 12,000 filings each month during 2019.

As eviction filings steadily began to increase in the early fall of 2020, the CDC eviction moratorium was issued and carried on until August 26, 2021. With Virginia DHCD’s notable implementation of the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP), local rent relief programs in Alexandria and Chesterfield, and state law that required landlords to apply for rent relief before evictions can occur, filings remained below 2,500 per month through March 2021.

The RVA Eviction Lab remains Virginia’s key source for eviction data and insight. Their continued tracking of eviction filings and judgements in the months since March 2021 has shown an “impending crisis” heading into 2023.

Why this matters:

Virginia’s representation on the Princeton Eviction Lab in 2016 pushed eviction to the forefront of housing policy in the Commonwealth. Efforts to address the crisis have led to programs like the Virginia Eviction Reduction Pilot (VERP), but with the effective end of massive federal funding for rental relief, programs like VERP remain vital.

Observed homelessness has been in decline in the last decade, while service providers and advocates worry of the unseen and precariously housed.

From 2010 to 2020, the HUD Point-in-Time (PIT) count has shown that the total number of persons experiencing homelessness in Virginia has declined from 9,080 to 5,957 — a 34 percent decrease over ten years. Although these numbers are optimistic, PIT does not account for the large number of people in unstable housing situations, such as the ever-increasing number of individuals and families living in hotels or staying with friends or family. The count of enrolled school-age children experiencing homelessness represents a stark contrast to PIT counts. From the 2008-09 to 2018-19 school years, the number of school-age children experiencing homelessness has risen to just over 20,000.

Homelessness is a racial justice issue.

In Virginia and across the country, the issue of homelessness is also an issue of race. Although making up only 19% of the state’s population, Black Virginians accounted for over half (53%) of individuals counted as experiencing homelessness in 2020—a trend that has been consistent for at least the past five years.

The disproportionate representation of Black men experiencing homelessness is a racial justice issue that can be linked to centuries of discrimination in housing, criminal justice, education, healthcare, and the economy. Lack of access to quality healthcare and incarceration are conditions that often contribute to homelessness and that are frequently common to the experience of Black and brown Americans.

In metro areas like Hampton Roads and Richmond, where urban renewal and redlining displaced and divested Black homeowners, nearly seven in ten persons experiencing homelessness are Black.

Why it matters:

The diverse needs of Virginia’s residents spans the housing spectrum to include emergency shelter and permanent supportive housing options. For many Virginians, housing isn’t just a home, but also involves the help needed to keep them housed.

Coming up next time

In the next edition of this series, we’ll begin exploring the HB854 study’s analysis of existing state programs in Virginia, and the recommendations that come with it.

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