Pro Bono News

A Place to Call Your Own (VA)

Sunday, February 02, 2020

A Place to Call Your Own

"An eviction can be a scarlet letter for families looking for a home or apartment, often leading to a move to substandard housing and, in turn, a lower overall quality of life for parents and children.

It all comes back to having a stable place to call one's own, local housing advocates say.

“We know that housing is that building block of people's lives for sustainability,” says Monica Jefferson, vice president and COO of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME). “If you have stable housing, that impacts your health, that impacts you mentally, physically and emotionally. It allows you to have a better, productive life, [to] be a part of a community and neighborhood.”

Jefferson is one of the driving forces behind Richmond’s eviction diversion program and co-chair of the eviction task force, two local efforts to address and shrink the city’s staggering eviction rates. Both were formed by Mayor Levar Stoney last year in response to a Princeton University study that revealed Richmond had 6,345 evictions in 2016, making it the holder of the second-highest eviction rate of all major American cities behind North Charleston, South Carolina.

The eviction diversion program is designed to be a one-time assistance service for Richmond tenants who are gainfully employed but who find themselves unable to catch up with mounting rent debts due to worst-case situations like a family or medical emergency. The program was launched officially last October and successfully diverted 76 evictions in 2019, according to a HOME report. The average rent amount owed by program participants was $866.91, and the program is currently on track to divert between 300 and 500 evictions in its first year, Jefferson said at an event in January.

The program is a collaborative effort between the city, HOME, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, the court system, the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation and Firms in Service, a local pro bono legal assistance program. Jennifer Daglio, a senior attorney at Hunton Andrews Kurth, is one of the pro bono lawyers helping with the city’s eviction diversion program. These lawyers can often be found standing in the hallway of the John Marshall Courthouse in downtown Richmond, she said, where eviction lawsuits in the city are heard.

Daglio felt drawn to the program after learning of Richmond’s eviction rate and says her background handling transactions in the courtroom comes in handy when serving as a volunteer conciliator — a neutral intermediary who oversees negotiations between tenants and landlords who agree to participate in the program as they work out a payment plan for the back rent..."

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