This new tool to help Virginians facing eviction could make 'huge difference,' advocate says

Storey: 'If you go into court and you're just winging it, the outcome is not likely to be good'
Posted at 6:32 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 19:03:12-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Poverty Law Center has launched a new online tool designed to help low-income Virginians facing eviction proceedings in court who cannot afford legal representation.

Called the Eviction Defense Center (EDC), which is also available in Spanish, it offers general information about eviction rules and resources in Virginia but also a decision tree that can help provide scenario-specific information.

"It is tailored information that's tailored to specific situations so that somebody can understand what the situation is that they're in, what the options are," said VPLC Housing Advocate Phil Storey, who is now the director of the EDC. "If there are ways to fight their eviction in court, they can download tools that they can take to court to hand to the judge or to read from a script…so that when you're in court and you're nervous…this can give you a little bit more confidence and help you make your case in court as well."

 Eviction Defense Center
Phil Storey, a housing advocate with the Virginia Poverty Law Center

Storey said he has been working in this field for 15 years and said when people are facing the threat of eviction, it is just one of many challenges.

"An eviction itself turns into a whole bunch more challenges, you know. Problems getting to work, problems finding new childcare. problems getting your kids to school, health issues, all kinds of stuff like that," said Storey.

VPLC said over 400 evictions are filed each day in Virginia and Storey added over 100,000 families face eviction hearings each year. The idea for the EDC came from VPLC's goal of providing legal representation to anyone facing civil litigation but who could not afford an attorney.

 Eviction Defense Center
Eviction Defense Center

The sheer number of cases meant physical representation was not feasible, so they created a telephone hotline, which Storey was a part of, but even that did not reach everyone, and is why they began work on the EDC.

"Most landlords are good landlords, they follow the rules and everything. There are obviously some landlords that might try to cut corners. If you don't know what the rules are, what the requirements are, you don't know what you can tell a judge and ask the judge to throw the case out, make the landlord start over again… it makes all the difference in the world," said Storey. "If you go into court and you're just winging it, the outcome is not likely to be good. If you know what the law says, what your rights are, what the steps are that the landlord is supposed to follow, then you can bring that up to the judge and ask the judge to defend your rights and make the landlord comply with the law -- makes a huge difference."

 Eviction Defense Center

VPLC had been working on the EDC for some time but was given a financial boost in March when it received a $1-million grant from the Yield Giving Foundation.

"Additional funding will help us make improvements to the site and to the tools and everything. And as well as rollout additional tools that will help people in similar situations may be facing."

VPLC said those future tools will cover "consumer rights, access to health care, utilities, public benefits, and legal resources for seniors."

VPLC said the EDC's launch date was picked to coincide with "Justice Day," a 24-hour fundraiser for the organization.

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