For The Record

Photograph by Tiago Fernandez

In August 2021, after the U.S. Supreme Court removed federal eviction protections created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Attorney General Merrick Garland urged the entire legal community — including law schools — to take immediate action to help address the “looming housing and eviction crisis.”

Richmond Law was already a step ahead of Garland. For the past year, law students have volunteered their time and expertise on an eviction-prevention project in collaboration with the Legal Aid Justice Center. It’s part of a pro bono housing program on which the law school and LAJC have partnered since 2008.

“There are over 100 families that face eviction each week in Richmond, Henrico, Charlottesville, and Albemarle,” said Louisa Rich, a housing attorney with the LAJC. “It would be impossible to represent every single family.”

Instead, law students are analyzing the upcoming eviction docket, looking for trends. “They’re looking at, ‘What are the eviction cases? Who are the landlords? When are they happening? Where are they happening?’” said professor Tara Casey, who oversees the docket review as director of the Carrico Center for Pro Bono and Public Service. The data help LAJC to know which dates have the most eviction hearings scheduled so that its legal staff can maximize the number of tenants they can help. LAJC also uses the information for policy advocacy, both in the media and in the general assembly.

Eviction has long been an outsized problem in the Richmond area. According to research by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, Richmond had the second-highest rate of eviction judgments among cities in 2016. While statewide legislative changes since then have offered more protections to tenants, the pandemic has exacerbated an already difficult situation for many local residents.

In response, Richmond Law students are helping with several eviction-related programs, including an eviction help line run by the Virginia Poverty Law Center and an eviction diversion program with the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation. The help line provides tenants facing eviction with legal information and referrals, including specific legal advice from an attorney. The diversion program connects tenants to financial assistance and arranges payment plans to keep people in their homes.

Meanwhile, the LAJC docket review, an entirely student-staffed project, continues to have enthusiastic and consistent participation, filling up quickly each semester. Among the frequent volunteers is Charmaine Nyman, L’22. The volunteer work is “one small piece I can contribute to the eviction crisis affecting our community,” Nyman said. She takes pride in the fact that the LAJC can use her work to — as she puts it — help Virginians keep a roof over their head.