The Virginia General Assembly’s Special Session, held from mid-August to mid-November 2020 to address the impacts of COVID-19, resulted in new levels of protection for tenants and landlords. EHI urged the General Assembly to enact stronger protections for tenants and landlords during that session. (EHI is incorporated and has its office in Virginia.)

For 2021, landlords will have to give tenants 14 days’ notice before suing to evict (as opposed to the five days noticed required previously). That 14-days’ notice must state the amount owed, along with information about the RMRP and about contacting 2-1-1 Virginia for other rental assistance programs.

Also, during those 14 days, landlords will have to apply for taxpayer money to cover tenants’ back rent, through the state’s Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP)—unless the tenant tells the landlord that the tenant is applying to the RMRP. No eviction is permitted unless the RMRP denies the application because of non-cooperation by the tenant, because the tenant is ineligible for rent relief, because the RMRP has run out of money, or unless the RMRP does not approve the application within 45 days after submission. 

Landlords owning five or more rentals must follow an extra step before evicting for unpaid rent, and they must offer a payment plan without late fees. However, those landlords may obtain an eviction if the tenant refuses to enter into a payment plan or misses and agreed-on payment. The landlord only has to enter into a payment plan one time per lease period. The tenant must give the landlord a signed statement of lost income and/or increased expenses due to COVID-19.

The RMRP will be greatly aided by the federal emergency COVID-19 relief legislation signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020. It provides $25 billion in emergency rental assistance nationwide—of which Virginia is to receive and estimated $568 million. At least 90% of those funds must be used to provide financial assistance, including for rent, utility payments, and other housing expenses. Priority must be given to low-income people and people who have been unemployed for at least 90 days.The law also extends the deadline for use of federal CARES Act funds from December 30, 2020 to December 31, 2021.

For further information on the new federal relief legislation, you may click on HOUSING PROVISIONS OF DECEMBER 2020 FEDERAL RELIEF PACKAGE, posted by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)In addition to the federal funding, $12.5 million in state housing relief funding was included in the revised, biennial Virginia budget enacted in November as a result of the General Assembly’s Special Session.

There was a short-term Virginia eviction moratorium resulting from the General Assembly's Special Session. That moratorium was in effect from mid-November (when Governor Ralph Northam signed the final version) to the end of 2020. The urgency of that moratorium was reduced by the issuance of the federal eviction moratorium, which took effect on September 4. The General Assembly did not curtail the Governor’s ability to order an eviction moratorium without legislative action, if conditions warrant it. Virginia’s Attorney General has concluded that the Governor has that authority, although Governor Northam never has issued such a moratorium. 

For more on EHI’s letters to the General Assembly urging enactment of stronger protections for tenants and landlords during the Special Session, please click on EHI URGES VIRGINIA GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO INCREASE EVICTION PROTECTIONS.

On June 20, 2019, Loudoun County, Virginia’s governing body (the Board of Supervisors) approved the first Comprehensive Plan in 18 years for that that burgeoning, outer suburb of Washington, DC. The amount of new housing that should be planned for was among the chief sources of debate during the 3½-year planning process, which included more than 100 public meetings. However, the final Plan (which covers the period to 2040) appears fundamentally consistent with the expanded housing demand forecasts by the County’s Planning Commission and planning staff, as well as outside experts—including EHI.

According to those forecasts, the county will need much more new housing than previously envisioned, in order to balance the tremendous job growth there by 2040. Loudoun anticipates about 110,000 new jobs by then—almost a two-thirds increase from 2015.

The Equitable Housing Institute (EHI) played a key role in the achievement of “jobs-housing balance” by a Reston, Virginia, task force, in planning for major, new development and job growth in three new Metrorail (commuter rail) station areas there. Reston’s plans, adopted by the Fairfax County government in February 2014, include enough new housing to balance the 30,000 or more new workers who are expected to take jobs in those station areas by 2040. (True “jobs-housing balance” generally consists of one suitable housing unit for about every 1.5 jobs in the community.)

Reston’s balanced development plans were unprecedented among Fairfax County’s transit-oriented developments (TODs). They showed a concern for housing needs that is all-too-rare in land use planning, but that is necessary if the United States hopes to reverse the major and ever-increasing problems its people face with housing affordability.

When EHI became involved, about a year into the planning effort, the development framework under discussion would have resulted in a very high jobs-housing ratio in the station areas, aggravating Reston’s housing shortage. EHI provided the task force with detailed research and calculations on the effects of various amounts of housing in the development mix.  

In the end, at least 12,540 new housing units were added to the planning stage for Reston, after EHI got involved. That amounted to about 57 percent of the total of new housing units (22,140) planned for the Reston station areas.

It took sustained determination by members of the planning group to ensure that the increased housing remained in the final plans. There are strong political headwinds in Fairfax County, and other economically thriving areas across the United States, that favor limiting housing development. The result is housing shortages compared with job growth.

Those political headwinds need to be resisted effectively. Otherwise, Americans will suffer ever-increasing problems with hyperinflation in housing costs, displacement of low- and moderate-income residents, poverty and homelessness, and the destructive effects of urban sprawl. For more specifics on on how Reston achieved jobs-housing balance in its Metrorail-area planning, please click on RESTON’S JOBS-HOUSING BALANCE ACHIEVEMENT.

Washington Post publishes EHI’s letters on consequences of failures of housing planning and supply

The Washington Post printed the following letter by EHI’s President, Tom Loftus, in April 2013, in response to numerous recent Post articles on housing issues.

Government’s failure to plan for housing is hurting people

Problems described in the April 22 front-page article “Big firms scooping up home bargains,” about Wall Street firms outbidding individuals for homes in recovering real estate markets (such as this one), and in the same day’s Metro article “Budget cuts threaten to upend Fairfax man’s fragile existence” are aggravated by the failure of most area jurisdictions to plan for, and permit, enough housing for their workforces.

That failure also worsens the effects of gentrification in Alexandria, the closing of the District’s public housing list, homelessness and declining affordability in and around the city. The resulting inadequate housing supply hits low- and moderate-income people hardest.

Major potential sources of new housing in Northern Virginia are being planned along the new Silver Line to Dulles Airport and eastern Loudoun County. But the local governments that ultimately will make the decisions about these communities have resisted allowing enough housing for future workers in those areas.

There are many documented success stories of communities near transit that are predominantly residential. New residents generally are not a significant drain on local government finances, as some officials fear.

Thomas A. Loftus, Vienna

The writer is president of the Equitable Housing Institute.

The published version is available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/governments-failure-to-plan-for-housing-is-hurting-people/2013/04/28/b169a93e-adc5-11e2-b240-9ef3a72c67cc_story.html. It appeared in the Post's print edition on April 29, 2013, at page A14. 

In 2010, the Washington Post printed the following letter by EHI's President, Tom Loftus, summarizing EHI's position that the imbalance between jobs and housing units in the Washington area is a major cause of the escalating rents there. 

Regarding the Dec. 21 front-page article "Region's tenants caught in a clamp":

A major reason for the 22 percent jump in rents (inflation-adjusted) over the past decade in this area is the serious imbalance of jobs and housing units. That imbalance is long-standing, worsening and strongly related to government policies. A proper balance generally is one housing unit for every 1.5 jobs in the community, as determined by the American Planning Association. Yet local governments still seek growth that would produce an even greater disparity between jobs and available housing.

For example, Fairfax County has had among the largest jobs/housing imbalances in the region. Yet, last summer its Board of Supervisors approved plans for a greatly expanded Tysons Corner, with approximately four jobs per household. The other communities along the new Metrorail corridor, all the way to the Loudoun County line, are projected to have even greater jobs and housing imbalances, according to George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis.

Most other area governments pursue similar policies, which can increase local government revenue. But they cause increased poverty, homelessness, suburban sprawl, extreme commutes, clogged highways, fuel consumption and environmental problems, as well as housing market instability. Area governments should consistently promote a proper jobs/housing balance in the community.

Thomas A. Loftus, Vienna

The writer is president of the Equitable Housing Institute.

The published version is available at:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/25/AR2010122501779.html. It appeared in the Post's print edition on Dec. 26, 2010, at page A26.