Threat of eviction higher in areas hit harder by COVID-19, Fairfax County data shows

Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services Division Director Keisha Dotson addresses the Board of Supervisors health and human services committee on June 29, 2021 (via Fairfax County)

With a federal moratorium on evictions set to expire at the end of July, Fairfax County officials are preparing for a surge in evictions and accompanying demand for rental assistance and other social services.

Even with various federal and state protections in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, 599 writs of eviction and 1,411 unlawful detainers were issued to Fairfax County residents between June 2020 and 2021, according to an Eviction Data Dashboard created by county staff.

Presented to the Board of Supervisors during its health and human services committee meeting on Tuesday (June 29), the dashboard map indicates that the residents at risk of being evicted tend to be concentrated in neighborhoods of color and ones that have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus, Fairfax County Housing and Community Development Deputy Director Tom Barnett told the board.

As of June 14, residents of the 22306 zip code in Alexandria have been issued 54 writs of eviction — court notices directing the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office to remove a tenant’s belongings from the property — the most of any zip code in the county.

That zip code has also recorded 3,641 COVID-19 cases, which translates to 11,263 cases per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the county. Within that zip code, eviction notices have been clustered south of Groveton and around Woodley Hills, census tracts with relatively high Black and Hispanic/Latino populations.

The Alexandria area in general has been particularly affected by housing instability during the pandemic with 159 writs of eviction issued, more than twice as many as any other part of the county. Falls Church comes in second with 73 writs issued.

Alexandria and Falls Church have also seen the most unlawful detainers, which are issued when a landlord seeks court assistance in removing a tenant from their property.

The number of unlawful detainers issued in Fairfax County by location from June 2020 to June 2021 (via Fairfax County)
The number of writs of eviction issued in Fairfax County by location from June 2020 to June 2021 (via Fairfax County)

There are some exceptions to the overall correlation of eviction notices and COVID-19 cases. The 20171 zip code, which encompasses Herndon south of the Dulles Toll Road, has seen 35 writs of eviction issued — the third most in the county — but it has also reported a relatively low rate of 5,304.3 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

Fairfax County Health and Human Services staff put together the dashboard using real-time information obtained from the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office and General District Court, thanks to a partnership that the agencies formed last summer in response to the pandemic.

“We’re using this data and other data that is available to the county to target our outreach and our rental assistance,” Barnett said.

While evictions did not entirely stop, they have been well below pre-pandemic levels, with the county averaging 401 writs per month in 2019 compared to just 116 cases in 2020, an average that drops down to 43 writs per month when January, February, and March are taken out of the equation.

Writs of eviction issued in Fairfax County by month in 2019 and 2020 (via Fairfax County)

The Eviction Data Dashboard shows that the number of eviction writs and detainers picked up during the fall of 2020 after the Virginia Supreme Court declined to extend the state’s eviction moratorium and again this past March, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide moratorium almost expired before getting a late extension.

Barnett says those past upticks offer a preview of what the county can expect if the CDC moratorium ends after July 31 as scheduled.

Fairfax County hopes to soften that blow with the help of roughly $70 million in federal relief funds dedicated to Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) programs.

“Federal emergency rental assistance and other funding sources provide Fairfax County with the ability to avoid thousands of potential evictions across the County, some unknown number of them in Reston and the Hunter Mill District,” Supervisor Walter Alcorn said in a statement. “…I want to make sure we are doing everything we can with the funding available to keep our residents housed.”

According to the staff presentation to the health and human services committee, the county received $34.5 million from the ERA program with the second coronavirus relief bill enacted on Dec. 27, and it has been allocated $35.1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was enacted on March 11.

As of June 24, the county had distributed just $3.1 million of those initial funds, but Neighborhood and Community Services Division Director Keisha Dotson told the board that the pace has increased since the ERA launched, with upwards of $1 million going out to residents in need each week.

Since the pandemic began, the county has disbursed a total of $31.5 million to help cover residents’ basic needs. The most frequent request has been for rental assistance, followed by emergency food help and utility assistance, according to Dotson.

In addition to working with tenants, the county’s eviction prevention efforts have involved collaboration with community nonprofits and outreach to landlords, most recently with a portal where landlords can apply for ERA funds on behalf of their tenants.

975 applications had been submitted through the portal as of Monday (June 28), Dotson said.

Dotson expressed confidence that the county’s human services team will have sufficient staff and resources in place to handle the influx in demand for assistance that is expected to emerge at the end of this month.

“A lot of the folks are already known to us and in process, so we’re able to anticipate where things are with those households,” she said. “So, as we are staffed up and prepared for the uptick once the actual date comes, we will continue to work to maximize that.”

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