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Housing authority urges residents to apply for Rent Relief Program

The Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s executive director said it would evict those who are behind on rent payments with the end of the eviction moratorium, though it is throwing a lifeline to those who need it.

Executive Director Tracey Snipes told the authority’s board of commissioners at its Aug. 24 meeting that it has about 10 residents who have not paid any rent during the coronavirus pandemic, and even through lapses in the eviction moratorium, it has not evicted anyone in more than 18 months. Snipes said this three days prior to the Supreme Court overturning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium.

The housing authority has told those residents they will have to pay up or be evicted, though it has also been trying to steer those residents toward the Virginia Rent Relief Program.

“What we’ve been doing is offering them education, the Virginia Rent Relief Program, we are assisting them with applying to get the revenue,” Snipes said, “because the money is there. It just takes the effort of our residents to go out and apply for it.”

Though the eviction moratorium was overturned, state renters can still apply for the program, which helps people pay rent to landlords going back to April 1, 2020, and can provide for up to three months of payments in the future if needed.

Gov. Ralph Northam has also signed additional eviction protections into law. Among them: landlords can not evict for nonpayment of rent if the household has had financial difficulties, directly or indirectly, due to COVID-19 unless the landlord provides the tenant with a 14-day nonpayment notice telling them about the rent relief program.

In the 14-day period, the landlord or tenant must apply for the program, or the tenant must pay their rent in full. Evictions cannot happen unless the tenant is ineligible for the program, does not cooperate with the application or is not approved in writing within 45 days of a completed application.

Michell Layne, housing operations director for the housing authority, said it has families who are supposed to be paying anywhere from the minimum rent to approximately $500 to $600 per month.
Housing Commissioner Ben Fitzgerald, who is also a pastor, offered to have his church help residents.

“I’ll be sure to keep you informed when we get to the point when there is an eviction,” Snipes said, “because right now, we’re really trying to encourage people to use the Virginia relief program because that’s what it’s there for. But if it comes to the point where we have to evict, we’ll reach out to you.”

 

No vaccine mandate for housing authority employees

Snipes also said the housing authority currently is not mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for employees. About four employees in the housing authority’s office have not been vaccinated “for various reasons,” she said.

“I was not going to dictate to anyone what to do with their body,” Snipes said in response to a question from Commissioner Deborah Hudson about why she wasn’t mandating that employees get vaccinated. “The risk is more for the person who has not been vaccinated, more so than the person who is getting vaccinated.”

Snipes said the housing authority would continue to monitor the statistics on COVID-19 and the Delta variant.

“I do plan to talk to them, especially now since the FDA has given approval on the (Pfizer-BioNTech) vaccine, if that is one of the barriers they were using,” Snipes said, “because I do not know what the reasons are why those four aren’t vaccinated.”

Hudson then asked about the risk to other employees before board chairman Quinton Franklin stated that the decision on whether to require COVID-19 vaccines was up to Snipes because she runs the day-to-day operations of the housing authority.

Fitzgerald, however, said it is unfair “to put this highly politicized situation at Tracey’s feet.”

Housing authority attorney Darius Davenport said the board can set organization policy, and once it does, the executive director administers it.

“If the board wanted to consider a policy that governed the vaccination status of SRHA employees, that is within the purview of the (board),” Davenport said.

Hudson, who is also a Medical Reserve Corps volunteer with the Virginia Department of Health, said she is a strong advocate for the vaccine and offered her services to help test or vaccinate housing authority staff.

The board plans to discuss the matter again at its Sept. 28 meeting.