Northam announces $4M grant to hire more lawyers to help fight evictions

Gov. Ralph Northam and top state health officials speak at a news conference in August. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

There will be 20 more lawyers in Virginia helping low-income people fight eviction lawsuits over the next two years, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday.

The new hires will be funded by a $2 million donation by Swedish-furniture giant IKEA and a $2 million match in state relief funds.

“Our commonwealth faced an eviction crisis before COVID-19 arrived in early March, and the ongoing global pandemic is making this problem even worse,” Northam said in a statement.

IKEA representatives said they wanted to make the donation as a way to give back to the state after unemployment benefit programs provided jobless aid to their workers during closures earlier in the pandemic.

The funding will go to the Legal Services Corporation of Virginia, which coordinates legal aid offices around the state. Mark Braley, the group’s executive director, said the new hires will help handle a surge of cases.

“It’s a matter of sheer numbers,” he said. “We don’t have the manpower as currently constructed.”

Landlord groups questions the expenditure, noting most eviction cases are filed for simple nonpayment of rent. “These funds would be better spent assisting more Virginians in paying for their housing needs, thereby making the lawyers unnecessary to begin with,” said the Virginia Apartment Management Association in a statement.

The General Assembly is continuing to debate an eviction moratorium proposed by Northam.

Virginia lawmakers pursue compromise on eviction moratorium