Public Comments for 08/24/2020 General Laws
We would like to voice support of HB5050 especially to allow the purchase of PPE to ensure the Commonwealth is able to acquire and distribute key equipment essential to facing the current and future health crisis. Virginia has always been and continues to be a leader for the region and the nation, by leveraging the PPE purchase we will continue to ensure the best service for our citizens and continuity of business.
Good afternoon, I am writing to respectfully share my concerns with the changes to the Freedom of Information Act included in HB5090. With all due respect to the patron, this may create undue complications for law enforcement to protect information vital to the integrity of criminal cases. While I don't disagree with the intent of more transparency, I am concerned about unintended consequences that may put a chilling affect on witnesses cooperating in the future. I would respectfully request that this bill be studied by the FOIA commission first, and then be taken up by the 2021 regular session of the General Assembly. I am happy to answer any questions if you like. Respectfully, Doug Goodman
The Innocence Project at University of Virginia (UVA) School of Law, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) and national Innocence Project make up the Virginia Innocence Coalition, which advocates for policies that address and prevent wrongful convictions. Our coalition would like to thank Delegate Hurst for authoring H.B. 5090 and encourage the committee to support this legislation. Under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) if convicted people ask for the investigative files in their cases, police departments have discretion on whether to comply. Agencies often cite an exemption in the law for “ongoing criminal investigations” to deny these requests—even when convictions are final. By contrast, Maryland has a robust public records law that has played an important role in overturning wrongful convictions. For example, last November the “Harlem Park Three” were exonerated of a Baltimore murder after spending 36 years in prison because a public records request turned up a previously hidden police report revealing the identity of the actual perpetrator. Without access to this information, the three would still be in prison. Over the past 13 months MAIP has tracked its requests for criminal investigative files from police and prosecutor agencies in both Virginia and Maryland. The chart below demonstrates how Virginia’s law is hampering the ability of innocence organizations to investigate and file wrongful conviction claims. MAIP Police/Prosecutor Investigative File Requests Virginia Maryland Total Requests 22 45 Agency Sent File 3 22 Agency Reports No Docs 5 11 Agency Currently Searching for Files 6 12 Agency Withheld File Under FOIA 8 0 H.B. 5090 would require police agencies to release criminal investigative files at the request of convicted persons. In addition, it would clarify that the exemption for disclosures in “ongoing investigations” does not apply when a conviction is final. This legislation will ensure that Virginia can overturn wrongful convictions of innocent people and help law enforcement identify the people who actually committed the crime. It is an important step in enhancing criminal justice and public safety in the Commonwealth and we urge the Committee to pass it.
General Assembly should focus all legislative efforts on implementing Governor Northam’s rent relief program. Efforts to establish additional programs, additional requirements or alternative strategies should be merged into Governor Northam’s rent relief program. That program - and local government rent relief programs that already have funding - they have the money needed to actually help the families involved. Separate efforts will only distract, discourage and overwhelm renters who need help. All legislative solutions should be tied state and local rent relief programs that are funded.
On behalf of the Service Employees International Union and its members working as consumer-directed health attendants in support of Virginia's Medicaid program, the Union supports Del. Helmer's HB 5050 legislation. Consumer directed home care workers are paid through a fiscal intermediary on behalf of the Medicaid member who receives state Medicaid funds for in-home care. Because these members fall in a gray area of not being state employees, this legislation will give the Administration another tool to provide PPE to this critical workforce that continued to work as essential workers despite the stay at home order. Charlie Jackson
We oppose based on the Rick of exposing witnesses and victims and that having a chilling effect of reporting crimes such as sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as gang related crimes. Release of witness statements will serve to identify victims and witnesses and put them at risk, other protected by law.
As a resident of Arlington county and directly affected from COVID-19 work Layoffs I am also faced with the decision of leaving my children at home so that I may return to work so that I will not be evicted whenever that time comes it is not any Americans for that COVID-19 has disrupted our lives and I don’t feel as though we should have to be punished and kicked out of our homes due to the Insensitivity of elected officials who are not facing the same evictions we are.
I support Delegate's Cole bill - HB 5111. By some estimates, close to 4,000 families in Virginia have lost their homes. There are hundreds of thousands of working people who have fallen behind on rent because of COVID-related income loss and are facing evictions. This is through no fault of their own. If effective measures such as Delegate Cole's bill are not legislated, we can anticipate over 260,000 eviction filings in the next 4 months. Whether it's people like one of our members in Norfolk who is a single mother of four children who is behind on rent by 3 months after losing her job and currently has the coronavirus and is caring for her children and cannot go back to work, or our members who are undocumented and who have lost jobs or their hours cut back who don't qualify for any of the federal government's relief packages have to make the ultimate decision about whether to pay rent or buy food for their families, we need to ensure that people can stay in their homes, when housing is considered a "prescription" for the pandemic. Thank you.
On behalf of the Virginia Apartment and Management Association (VAMA) and the Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA), I ask for your opposition to H.B. 5106. Delegate Cole’s bill has been docketed for consideration in the House Committee on General Laws Monday afternoon. Our organizations are sympathetic to the intent behind the bill. Tenants should not have a black mark on their credit or be hindered in seeking future housing because of something that was out of their control. However, the issue remains that housing providers are not able to comply with the requirements of the bill as it doesn’t mirror the manner in which such information is practically shared with the credit bureaus. Housing providers do not directly share any information regarding a tenant or their payment history with the credit bureaus or screening companies. Most larger housing providers utilize property management software to track payments, etc. These platforms include Yardi, MRI, Onesite, Entrata and others. Each month, the housing provider enters all tenant’s payments into the tenant’s ledger. Courts require that the housing provider keep a tenant ledger documenting the tenant’s payment history. The three major credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion and Equifax) access this information via a screening company which interfaces with the property management software platform, automatically drawing payment history and other information for the tenant’s credit file. When screening a new applicant, the housing provider generally uses a screening company such as Core Logic, SafeRent, Resident Data, or others that screens the applicant based on the housing provider's tenant selection criteria. The screening company pulls credit and rental history data from its database, or directly from the credit bureau. The housing provider does not see the actual data behind the applicant’s credit file. Rather the screening company simply reports to the housing provider whether the prospective tenant qualifies, qualifies with reservations, or does not qualify based on the tenant selection criteria. It is not possible to exclude certain timeframes within the screening criteria based on the options available from the screening companies. Therefore, the only way to achieve the desired objective would be to either require that the screening companies not include such data in their screening or that the credit bureaus not include such data in their credit files. For these reasons, H.B. 5106 is not practical. We would welcome the opportunity, however, to work with the patron on legislation for the regular session that might achieve the same objective. Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia Supports HB5106 HOME of Virginia is an organization dedicated to ensuring equal access to housing to everyone throughout state. We work to do this in several ways, including through our policy and advocacy efforts, housing stability program, and move to opportunity program. Prior to the current health crisis, many of our clients faced significant barriers to accessing safe and affordable housing opportunities, including limited access to credit and adverse credit reporting as a result of the hardships they faced. We recognize that both can significantly impact the ability to find safe and stable housing in the future, and therefore limits access to opportunities such as employment, education, and healthcare. We understand that substitutes will be introduced to ensure that the language of this bill acknowledges concerns of all stakeholders involved in this process, but we believe that this continues to move the Commonwealth in a positive direction by ensuring that adversities that individuals have faced during this global crisis do not limit their future housing opportunities and therefore how far they can go.
During a pandemic, the eviction crisis is an immense public health crisis—not only putting families at risk, but communities at large. It’s disrupting education, health services, and exacerbating health and mental health conditions for children and families. Voices for Virginia's Children supports the proposed legislation as it is a way to prevent additional childhood trauma and encourages the general assembly to think critically about how to utilize funding to supporting families facing extraordinary challenges.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comment on House Bill 5106 from Delegate Joshua Cole on behalf of the Virginia Bankers Association. This bill would prohibit the submission of delinquent or unpaid rent to a credit reporting agency. The integrity and accuracy of the data supplied to and by those agencies are critical to the credit decision making processes used by financial institutions. While we understand the unique and difficult circumstances of these times, we remained concerned that the suppression of information required to be reported under the FCRA will negatively impact our member banks' ability to correctly underwrite risk-based credit for potential borrowers. Should this legislation advance, we hope it would be narrowed to further define adverse items, so as not to include modified payment plans or other accommodations as an adverse action in reporting, but still allow for unmodified delinquencies to be reported. While credit scores provided by reporting agencies are but one factor in assessing a borrower's profile for credit worthiness, if the data is undermined it will further complicate the ability of the lender to make sound determinations.
HOUSE TESTIMONY ON HB 5111: EVICTION MORITORIUM (DEL. COLE) Introduction: [Formal Greeting]. Thank you for this opportunity to speak today. My name is Johanna Gusman and I am the Political Action Chair for the NAACP Loudoun and I represent several branches the NAACP in Northern Virginia—Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William County. The NAACP along with many other groups, advocates for smarter, results-based racial justice policies to keep our communities safe as well as an end to racial disparities at all levels of the system, including housing. The HB5111 LANDLORD & TENANT ACT targets two major issues within our Commonwealth’s housing system: 1) HOUSING EQUITY - COVID-19 is NOT going away, and CERTAINLY not if our most vulnerable populations are sent to the streets - Of the top 10 cities in the United States with the highest eviction rates, Virginia has five (50%) of the total, all concentrated in communities of color: Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and Chesapeake. THIS MAKES VIRGINIA THE WORST IN THE NATION for eviction inequities. - By prohibiting the termination of rental agreements and the issuance of writs of evictions, we can begin to address the housing crisis and its disproportionate harm to low-income communities of color as well as keep black and brown renters from the immediate risk of losing their homes. - Limiting termination of rental agreements and providing rental relief is the best way to limit the spread of COVID while also reducing health risks and fiscal costs associated with evictions, particularly in an economic crisis and global pandemic 2) RACIAL JUSTICE - This is a racial justice issue and an opportunity for you to actively engage in anti-racist work - While the recognition of racial justice is imperative, it must be paired with action, policy and programs that protect and value Black lives so that racial equity is a reality. - Decades of STRUCTURAL RACISM in housing policies (redlining, restrictive zoning, environmental segregation, etc.) have created tremendous racial disparities in housing and homelessness that need to be meaningfully addressed. Supporting HB 5111 is one such way to do this. [Thank you and I yield my time]
Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia Supports HB5064 HOME of Virginia is an organization dedicated to ensuring equal access to housing to everyone throughout state. We work to do this in several ways, including through our policy and advocacy efforts and through administering the city of Richmond’s Eviction and Diversion Program. Since the inception of the program, we have helped 147 households remain stably housed by working with tenants and landlords to pay back rent. We recognize the current health crisis has further exacerbated our clients’ struggle to pay and keep up with their rent payments due to loss of income and rely on the relationships cultivated between tenants and landlords to keep families safely house. We believe that HB 5064 will continue to do what we know is already happening, and that is working landlords and tenants so that families can remain housed during and after this crisis by accessing funding available through federal, state, and local programs. We remain committed to working with our clients to help them access funding through the eviction diversion program as well as other rental payment opportunities.
August 23, 2020 Dear Members of the Committee on Laws I am testifying in support of several bills that will ease the unimaginable burden on Virginia families who are low-income, the most susceptible to Covid, the most likely to have lost income during the slowdown, are mostly minority, and are now faced with possible evictions unless you act today to further bills that will hold off on evictions until tenants can receive CARES funds (HB5111). Tenants should also have a flexible schedule to repay back rent (HB 5064) and be spared burdensome late fees and fines for payments missed because of the economic slowdown (HB 3016). The most important is HB5111, which puts off evictions while tenants, landlords, and nonprofits can move the $50 million in CARES statewide funding and $20 million in Fairfax County CARES funding through the system to pay back rent. In Fairfax County only about $7 million of these funds have been disbursed and, like other localities throughout the state, the county has a backlog of clients being processed. Meanwhile evictions are being granted in Fairfax District Court. Recent county data shows the locations of unlawful detainers granted overlaid on the locations of Covid cases and family income levels revealing the concentration of potential evictions in places where families are poor and sick. Other maps show that they are also mainly racial and ethnic minorities. With a large amount of CARES funds undispersed, with more likely to come from federal negotiations as well as the state budget, it would be cruel to put families out on the street during a pandemic when you could make sure they can stay stably housed while funds are directed to the landlords. Regarding the statewide situation, the RVA Eviction Lab recently released a report that found: • 16% of renters report they did not pay July rent and 28% have little or no confidence in making August rent. • An estimated 169,000 to 262,000 households are at risk of eviction, which includes 88,000 to 134,000 households with children. • On average, tenants facing eviction during the pandemic owe more than $2,000 in back rent. • The majority of eviction judgments in Richmond are pursued by owners of 22% of the rental housing. The eviction tsunami long-predicted (since March) by housing experts has been held off by eviction moratoria in Virginia and other states, as well as a Federal moratorium that affected about 25 percent of the rental properties (and ended in July). The eviction moratorium must continue while rent relief is provided to landlords. Don’t compound the other problems of 2020 with a wave of evictions and homeless families that will place a huge strain on human services budgets and create a humanitarian crisis. And landlords will not get their back rent if they evict. Of course these bills should have emergency provisions to enable them to take effect immediately on passage. Sincerely, Mary Paden 6816 Duke Drive Alexandria, Va 22307 Mary.email@example.com 703-298-2176 Chair, Fairfax NAACP Housing Committee Chair, South County Task Force Member Equity Agenda Coalition of Northern Virginia
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, We at Progress Virginia strongly support HB5111 to establish a statewide eviction moratorium. In the midst of a global pandemic, the ability to stay home, social distance, and frequently wash one's hands are key to staying safe and healthy. But for thousands of Virginia families, a safe place to stay is at risk. This pandemic has devastated low-income communities of color, who are far more likely to get sick and to have lost income in the past months. Now, thousands of these families are at risk of eviction when the current moratorium ends on September 8th. Imagine trying to keep your family, your children, safe during this pandemic when you’ve lost your job and have no place to live. That’s the situation too many families will be in unless the General Assembly takes action this month on an eviction moratorium. That pause should be coupled with increased investment in the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program so that landlords can be kept solvent during this crisis. We urge you to vote yes on HB5111.
The need for this action is plain for all to see. Virginians cannot safely go back to work in sufficient numbers to make housing affordable. Federal CARES Act aid has ceased. Latinos especially are hard hit by Covid-19, and are facing more hospitalizations, despite the fact that many do not have health insurance and live in crowed conditions. We must not allow them to be turned out on the streets. This would be cruel, and also increase the health risk to the whole population. The moratorium must continue into next year, until Feb. 11 2021. Otherwise there will be a months long gap before the General Assembly can act again. Please enact this legislation. Diane Burkley Alejandro Lead Advocate ACLU People Power Fairfax
Wellspring UCC in Centreville VA began receiving donations for a fund to provide rental assistance at the beginning of the pandemic, and began responding to requests for assistance in June. This small fund, a little more than $13,000, had already paid out half of the funds at the end of two months. All funds went to persons who had been denied assistance by other organizations, either because the organizations had used up all of their funds, or because the applicant could not provide all of the documents needed. It is clear to all persons involved with rental assistance that the demand greatly exceeds the funds available, and additional policy changes are necessary to prevent low and moderate-income families being put on the street. This mass eviction would be so socially disruptive, and produce so many additional government costs, that policies should be created to avoid it at all costs. We would see increased crowding, and increased social inequality that will continue beyond the pandemic as persons without housing have difficulty returning to the job market. Domestic violence would likely increase along with increase in stress; and families would likely be separated as children are taken from homeless families. Landlords can be encouraged with tax breaks, to establish realistic payment plans which will begin after the renter returns to work. The courts can also continue its moratorium on evictions, until after the pandemic. Both of these policies are being used in other states. As a grass-roots nonprofit, attempting to respond to the needs around us, we plead with Virginia General Assembly to take action now, before mass evictions make life impossible for many residents. Please act now to establish an eviction moratorium, and to provide a realistic program to allow persons to remain in their homes.
The Richmond community is in dire need of an eviction moratorium and full rent forgiveness, effective immediately: So many of our friends, family, and neighbors became unemployed or otherwise lost income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; how does it make sense that they are still required to keep up with rental payments each month? Some landlords have offered payment plans to their tenants, but these plans are always contingent on the tenant paying back the difference at some later date. If they don’t have the money for rent right now, how will they have it in the future when the “end” of this pandemic is nowhere in sight? Furthermore, many landlords have not provided adequate information to their tenants regarding the options and resources available to them, and instead have opted to evict and move on. Many landlords have given no notice at all before filing an eviction, and, because not showing up for court results in an automatic win for the landlord, their tenants are kicked out without knowing anything about it. So many renters in this city have only found out about their eviction hearings because of the dedicated efforts of organizations like the Richmond Tenants Union. This is criminal. It does not make sense that members of our community are being made homeless every day while landlords get richer. It does not make sense that the economic burden of this crisis has fallen on those who are least able to afford it. We need an eviction moratorium, we need to halt ALL unlawful detainer proceedings, and we need to fully forgive ALL rental obligations for ALL tenants.
We oppose HB 5090 due to the inclusion of releasing witness statements. This will have a chilling effect on the cooperation we receive from the public and greatly hamper our ability to solve crime. Couple this with the fact that this would include the release of horrible video footage of incidents if it were a part of a criminal file, and continue to expose witnesses and victims to these incidents. It would also expose witness and victim statements to social media posts after they were obtained through FOIA. It may also increase the risk to our victims and our witnesses. Without them, we cannot hold those accountable for their crimes. Witness statements should always be excluded and be subject to discretionary release only.