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HOME to begin eviction diversion program

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 9/6/2019, 6 a.m.
Richmond’s first ever program aimed at helping people avoid eviction is about to get a home base.

Every year, hundreds of families with school-age children find themselves having to deal with the stress of upheaval in their living conditions while their students also try to keep up with class work. Many are unable to do so, data show, one key reason that those affected fall behind.

And there are plenty of affected families. As the legislation puts it: “There is a national eviction epidemic, and Richmond leads the crisis with an eviction rate of 11.44 percent — the second highest among large U.S. cities.”

In a city of 90,000 households, data show that landlords file 18,000 eviction lawsuits a year in Richmond General District Court.

Behind it is the city’s high level of poverty. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 25 percent of city residents live below the poverty line and another 25 percent have household incomes below the city’s median income of about $43,000 a year.

While a significant number of suits involve the same person or family as a result of repeated late payments, the result of the lawsuits is a long docket on the days that the judges in General District Court hear landlord requests to take over an apartment.

Many of the lawsuits end up being dismissed because the tenant pays or moves out before the court date. Even after a judge grants the landlord the right to remove the tenant, most tenants have paid or left before the sheriff arrives.

Still, the Richmond Sheriff’s Department oversees 3,000 evictions a year in the city in which a tenant’s property is removed from a residence, or an average of eight a day for each of the 365 days, according to the data.

Three other localities, along with Richmond, received General Assembly authority to test an eviction diversion program.