Taylor Toben, Contributing Writer
Richmond resident Joann Laws’ goal is to own a homeless shelter one day — she wants to help homeless people and often does so by volunteering and attending events in the Richmond community.
“I have been homeless myself twice, and both times it was over something I couldn’t control. I really want to help,” Laws said. “I have so much love for the homeless.”
Laws attended “RVA Table Talk – Access to Housing,” because of her passion for helping those in need.
The RVA Table Talk was held Thursday night at the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church. The goal of the night — which included dinner and a panel discussion — was to offer an open conversation between community members and experts about housing issues in Richmond.
According to the Campaign to Reduce Evictions, a group that focuses on housing stability in Virginia, Richmond has the second highest eviction rate in the country among large U.S. cities. The group’s website states that 2,688 families are evicted each year by the City of Richmond Sheriff’s Department.
Heather Crislip of Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, or HOME, highlighted issues of affordable housing, high levels of eviction, low percentages of homeownership for African Americans and Latinx communities and segregation in the area. HOME enforces the Fair Housing Act and aims to prevent housing discrimination.
“Eviction isn’t just a symptom of poverty, it’s a cause,” said Crislip, who also serves on the steering committee for the Campaign to Reduce Evictions.
The panel portion of the event focused on the barriers of housing access, eviction and systemic racism involved in the availability of housing. Many speakers also noted common stereotypes and misconceptions about eviction and housing access.
Among the panelists were Carolyn Loftin, director of housing and family services at Urban Hope, a non-profit focused on affordable housing in the East End of Richmond. Loftin says it is important for those who are not struggling financially to be conscious of others who are struggling.
“I wish that people who have the joy of being stable would realize the issues of those facing eviction,” said Loftin. “It is not something that they would willingly choose, but it is their condition.”
Loftin said she has been in need of housing in the past, which has made her devoted to the issue.
“I know what it is like to not have housing stability,” Loftin said. “So that is why I am so passionate about what I do.”
Speaker Amelia Rives, a VCU Wilder School fellow working with RVA Eviction Lab, collects and analyzes data about eviction in the Richmond area.
“I wish more people understood that eviction doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. It isn’t just something between a landlord and a tenant,” Rives said. “It is much more holistic than that.”
Jovan Burton, implementation director at the Partnership for Housing Affordability, also spoke at the event about the need for quality housing to be a public policy priority.
The Partnership for Housing Affordability is a nonprofit created to spread awareness on affordable housing issues. One significant project within the organization is The Richmond Regional Housing Framework, a three-year action plan to increase housing affordability in the region. The plan seeks to interact with the community, outline the issue, then act to improve it.
“To tackle this problem, we must be holistic and attack it at all angles,” Burton said.