Culpeper Town Council recently declined to enact a symbolic resolution asking the governor and congressional delegation to further address the crisis of missed rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic-induced severe economic downturn.
But other state and local programs and initiatives are in place responding to the issue as rampant unemployment leaves tenants and homeowners unable to pay.
Culpeper Councilwoman Jamie Clancey works closely with the disadvantaged in the community through her career as a licensed clinical social worker and as president of the local board of Services to Abused Families. It was she who initiated the resolution proposing that no local resident or small business owner suffering lost income due to COVID-19 be forced to lose housing or get bad credit.
“A lot of landlords and lenders are working with renters. I think that’s amazing,” Clancey said at a special Town Council meeting earlier this month. However, she said, others are not. “I’ve had people reach out to me that their landlords are actually raising the rent.”
Initial programs provided payments to landlords of tenants living in subsidized housing, but that relief should be available to all landlords whose tenants are struggling, Clancey said.
“I urge the state to have a conversation about what that might look like so people are not losing their homes or properties because they can’t work because of COVID-19,” she said.
If all landlords can get relief, they can pass that relief onto renters, Clancey said.
Councilman Pranas Rimeikis said while he sympathizes with anyone in eviction status that as a principle he didn’t think the town should be favoring one aspect of the community over the other—tenants versus landlords.
“We should be advocates for the entire community,” he said at the recent meeting. “I don’t see what another resolution will do to further anyone’s efforts. I don’t think it’s a good idea for any of us to get involved.”
Councilman Keith Brown generally agreed with Rimeikis, saying many small business people depend on rent payments to sustain their own operations.
“I don’t want to see government say, we hand-selected someone” for relief, he said. “I can’t support it.”
Councilman Keith Price, whose wife runs a small business downtown, said he viewed the resolution as a positive gesture, one of concern and forgiveness of rent.
He added of missed payments, “The money has to be paid by somebody somewhere. (Landlords) need the revenue” to operate their own buildings, Price said. The councilman said he would support the resolution so long as it didn’t erase accumulated debt, with the understanding that tenants would work with property owners to make up missed payments at some point in time.
Councilman Jon Russell said he supported the part about not reporting missed payments during this time to credit reporting agencies, negatively impacting credit scores.
“I don’t think we need to be speaking up and getting in the middle of contracts between a tenant and a landlord,” he said.
Vice Mayor Billy Yowell agreed, calling it overreach, and “something we should not be involved in.”
He added, “The next thing you know they’ll be asking to cover car payments.”
Mayor Mike Olinger concurred, saying, “It’s not our business to get involved in contracts.”
For many landlords, investment properties are their sole source of income, the mayor said. He said local landlords are working with their tenants on the issue of missed payments.
“I don’t support it,” Olinger said of the resolution.
Local landlord April Quinn represented this group at the recent meeting, speaking outside at the social-distanced meeting to share her opinion.
“We own three properties in town—all bought and paid for,” she said. “This would not protect us, this would put us out about $5,000 a month in rent.”
Quinn encouraged tenants who are struggling to take advantage of a current rent relief program of People, Inc. as opposed to not paying their bills. “Because this is what pays our bills—all the expenses of the property gets paid for with the rent,” she said.
Only Clancey and Price voted for the resolution with the rest of council voting no and Councilwoman Meaghan Taylor abstaining.
Earlier this week, Gov. Ralph Northam shared a new site, StayHomeVirginia.com, intended to protect from eviction and support individuals who have lost their job or income due to COVID-19. The site gives guidance with how to work with landlords, financial institutions, and other organizations to use eviction and foreclosure protections during the health crisis.
Resources include relief for private mortgage holders, multifamily complexes, and tenants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release.
“This public health crisis has created unprecedented housing challenges, regardless of whether you rent or own a home,” Northam said in a statement. “Right now, many Virginians are struggling to make next month’s rent or mortgage payments amid a loss in wages due to the pandemic. These resources will help Virginians get the information they need to make decisions, and ensure they have access to a safe, stable, and affordable place to live.”
Virginia Housing Development Authority partnered on the new site and also to provide a three-month mortgage deferral for those experiencing economic hardship. Landlords who have had their Virginia Housing-backed mortgage deferred must pass this deferral on to their tenants.
In addition, a new state law caps late fees at 10 percent of the periodic rent or 10 percent of the remaining balance due, whichever is lesser. Another measure the state recently enacted gives tenants a 60-day continuance of a court eviction proceeding if they appear in court and provide written evidence that they are not receiving payments or wages due to the state of emergency.
Additionally, homeowners or landlords that rent one, four, or multifamily units in Virginia can pause a foreclosure proceeding for 30 days if the individual provides their lender with written evidence showing a loss of income due to the pandemic.
People Inc., a nonprofit serving Culpeper, is now making rental payments directly to landlords or qualify in tenants in the counties it covers, also including Fauquier and Rappahannock.
In order to qualify, individuals must be within 200% of federal poverty guidelines and been impacted by a layoff, release or reduced income related to COVID-19. Individuals must owe the landlord rent for months during the pandemic. Call 833/437-0114 to apply.
Finally, Culpeper Housing and Shelter Services is another local nonprofit helping to stem homelessness during this time. In recent weeks, it has provided funding for dozens of families or individuals to stay in local motels and hotels, according to Director Cheryl Carter.
“Shelters are full during this time of COVID-19,” she said in a recent video post. “These have been trying times for our staff,” Carter said, “But imagine a single mom with three children living in a car.”