Suffolk, state should do more for tenants

Published 9:34 pm Saturday, April 28, 2018

The number seemed unbelievable at first. Could so many Hampton Roads cities be so highly ranked in the state — and even the nation — for their eviction rates?

Data from evictionlab.com placed Suffolk fourth on a list of mid-size cities in Virginia with the highest eviction rates. In 2016, the data claimed, Suffolk had 815 formal evictions in 2016, with 2,213 eviction filings.

In a city that still feels so much like a small town, how on earth had Suffolk accumulated that many evictions in a single year?

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

People who work with evictions every day, however, told News-Herald reporter Kellie Adamson last week that the numbers don’t tell the whole story. They only take into account evictions that were filed formally with a court system. So the actual number of evictions may be even higher.

Those same people outlined what they see as the reasons for the high eviction rates in Suffolk and Hampton Roads: a high cost of living combined with high poverty rates and state laws that fail to protect tenants adequately.

This mix of problems is a precarious one, but it is one that local officials and state legislators should work to tackle.

Anyone who has ever looked for housing in Suffolk on a limited budget can tell you that the choices are few. Suffolk has a dire need for affordable apartments — and, no, $1,400 a month for a two-bedroom apartment is not affordable — and reasonably priced, well constructed homes.

Suffolk should look for more opportunities to bring affordable housing in areas where the schools aren’t already overcrowded. The city should also do everything it can to crack down on irresponsible landlords who allow their properties to deteriorate and then evict tenants who complain too much. And the city should continue to bring jobs to the area and ensure local people can get them.

At the state level, legislators ought to sit down with tenant advocates to find out what is truly needed and do everything in their power to provide the tenant protections that are lacking in current law.

Suffolk should be known as the locality that has a diverse mix of housing opportunities for everyone, not just in style of the housing but in its affordability as well. Virginia should be known as the state that provides its citizens every opportunity to stay in decent housing.