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With evictions fueling homelessness, Fairfax County explores options to stop them

Writs of eviction issued in Fairfax County (courtesy Department of Housing and Community Development)

After a recent study showed an uptick in homelessness, Fairfax County staff say that data connects pretty cleanly to a matching rise in evictions over the last year.

The county saw a 10% increase — 119 people — in people experiencing homelessness for an estimated total of 1,310 people.

“In many ways the connection between housing and homelessness are logical, as homelessness is essentially defined as not having housing,” said Tom Barnett, deputy director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. “Much of the work of a homeless system is helping people in housing crisis find and secure new housing opportunities that match their means and unique needs.”

Barnett said the increase in evictions, in turn, came at the same time as the end of federal and state eviction moratoria.

“The latest trends in evictions coincide with the ending of federal and state eviction moratoria and declining federal resources for emergency rental assistance from pandemic-era funding,” Barnett said. “The federal eviction moratorium ended in August 2021 and the Virginia eviction moratorium ended on June 30, 2022.”

According to the county’s eviction dashboard, there were 2,674 formal writs of eviction issued between June 1, 2020 and the end of 2022. Before Virginia’s moratorium ended, there were only two months in that period with 100 or more writs, but those numbers soared to 280 in October, 317 in November and 248 in December.

Barnett noted that some households are “evicted informally” and can’t be tracked.

In 2021, the county established a Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program that assisted households who couldn’t pay rent or utilities during the pandemic, allowing thousands to stay in their homes when they might otherwise have been evicted.

A new program was set up to cover some of those expiring benefits, but Barnett says the $14 million funding that program only accounts for a fraction of the $95 million in federal assistance provided over the last three years.

According to Barnett:

In anticipation of expiring federal benefits, [Health and Human Services] created the ERA Bridge Program in May 2022 and began accepting applications on July 1, 2022. The goal of this program is to keep significant resources in the community while beginning to transition to a new post-COVID operating and funding level still to be determined. The ERA Bridge Program totals approximately $14.0 million and is funded through a combination of federal and County funding. This funding is supplemented by leveraging community-based organization funds (private and federal) in addition to their Consolidated Community Funding Pool (CCFP) funding. This support is facilitated through the County and nonprofit partnership model that existed pre-COVID-19.

It is important to note that pre-pandemic, all rental and transitional housing assistance funded through CCFP totaled approximately $4.0 million. It is understood that post-pandemic funding needs will significantly exceed that amount, and the ERA Bridge Program provides time and space to evaluate future funding level needs.

Barnett said the long-term answers are going to come from investing in housing stability and eviction prevention.

The county has partnered with the Legal Services of Northern Virginia to provide legal aid for residents in the court system and has participated in direct outreach to landlords. The legal services partnership is funded for one year, with staff set to determine whether or not those services are required beyond that.

Within the court system, the county has also worked to streamline the rental assistance process and to proactively identify and assist residents at risk of eviction, Barnett said.

Even so, Fairfax County is experiencing higher demand in shelters for those experiencing homelessness, particularly in shelters designed for families, according to Barnett.

Shelter demand for families with children has surged since late 2021, which has increased the number of families in emergency shelters. As of March 6, 2023, County-contracted family shelter providers were serving 140 households, which is 246 percent of the number of households that they were contracted to serve in shelters. Similar trends are seen in the County’s two domestic violence shelters.

To address increased demand, HHS is currently working with emergency shelter providers to evaluate existing program models to determine if additional investments are needed to support emergency financial and rental assistance to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. HHS is committed to working with its nonprofit partners to ensure that no families with children are unsheltered.

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