The Legal Aid Justice Center greatly appreciates Charlottesville City Council’s commitment to housing justice in Charlottesville, and we applaud their recent vote to approve funding for an eviction prevention program. We also want to express our gratitude to the very courageous and incredibly effective advocacy by our partners and allies in the community who continue to keep housing and homelessness at the fore of our city’s conversations.
The country faced a mass eviction crisis before the pandemic. In Charlottesville alone, 647 eviction actions were heard in 2019. As the structural inequities that created that crisis have not abated but rather been exacerbated, we can assume that eviction rates will, at a minimum, return to previous levels after the COVID-inspired protections expire, and it’s very likely that they will be much higher.
It is our understanding that the intention of the City’s program is to expand direct legal services to address the immediate eviction crisis while also building long-term strategies for preventing eviction and displacement over the long-term. If paired with a match from Albemarle County, the program would run for three years. We would like to clarify that the level of funding appropriated is insufficient to guarantee counsel for all those facing eviction. A true right-to-counsel program that provides full representation to 100% of individuals and families facing eviction would take a massive amount of additional resources and still would not change the underlying dynamics of the lack of affordable housing options. Right to counsel would also require legal, policy and procedural changes, some of which may require state-level action that embeds shelter as not just a human right but also a legally protected one.
Shelter is a basic human right. Safeguarding that right will require local, state, and national action to expand access to affordable housing and to extend and expand legal protections for those facing homelessness or displacement.
We look forward to working with City staff on the scope of the project.