Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor
More than 50 protesters gathered at the Science Museum of Virginia on Monday to demand an eviction moratorium and an allocation of $1 billion in rent relief in the commonwealth.
A majority of the crowd was made of Latino families and clergy members who spoke to the crowd concerning the eviction crisis happening during COVID-19, with the state’s moratorium set to end on Sept. 7.
Translators repeated speeches given by clergy and community members in Spanish for those in attendance with their families. Children held up signs saying “desalojos son violentas” and “ayuda para la renta,” meaning “evictions are violent” and “help with rent.”
According to a report by RVA Eviction Lab on Tuesday, there have been more than 54,000 eviction filings since January, with 19,000 of those cases resulting in an eviction. Steve Fischbach, litigation director at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, told WTVR in July that there were around 11,000 eviction cases scheduled in Virginia at the time.
Edgar Lara, who volunteers with Sin Barreras — an organization in Charlottesville dedicated to helping Spanish-speakers and immigrants access public services — said there is little benefit from putting families out of their homes.
“This is not going to help us in the future,” Lara said, “this is going to create so many more problems.”
Lara said Sin Barreras’ work has shifted recently to support those in the Latino community who have been affected by COVID-19.
“In our work with the community, we see all the struggles, especially through the pandemic,” Lara said. “The majority of our work has become pandemic response.”
Gov. Ralph Northam proposed an allocation of $88 million toward providing affordable housing during Tuesday’s General Assembly special session. The additional funding would allow for an extension to the commonwealth’s eviction moratorium.
Elaine Poon, managing attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, said protesters must “push back” on anyone who says an eight-month moratorium is too long.
“Invisible evictions can leave broken communities, gentrification and displacement,” Poon said. “Evictions are racial violence.”
Amar Amonette, an imam at the Islamic Center of Virginia, attended the rally in support of the “dignity” of human life and the right to housing.
“When someone is made homeless, our whole society is sick,” Amonette said. “How can I sleep in my home, in my bed, when my fellow human beings, my brothers and sisters, are in the streets?”
Amonette said the current eviction moratorium does not provide enough time to help people with their eviction proceedings.
“It’s just not possible,” Amonette said. “This is not going to end in a couple of weeks. It’s going to get worse and worse, all through the fall and through the winter.”
Donte McCutchen, a member of Clergy Action RVA and pastor at Love Cathedral Community Church, said he was there to “defend the defenseless.”
McCutchen said it’s important for people of faith to be present at the anti-eviction protests.
“This doesn’t just affect one person, it affects many people,” McCutchen said, “but oftentimes we know it affects Black and brown people the most.”