HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – Right now, there are people living in fear of losing their home or property as they wait for the Virginia Rent Relief Program application process.
Some residents who are waiting say the process is very slow.
The issue of timely rent relief is something the News 3 Investigative team has been working on for months.
The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has provided News 3 with new data and information about the amount of money that's been distributed through the program. We also asked them about the complaints from landlords, tenants and property managers about the new system that is taking much longer than the old system.
Sick in the hospital with COVID-19, Shari Haynes said she heard about the Virginia Rent Relief Program from a friend. The program is designed to provide assistance from the government to help pay rent.
“The application was put in in January, and to this day, I have not heard anything else,” said Haynes.
Kelly Miller from Keffer Realty said the entire application approval process has slowed down since the DHCD started using a new system called Gov2Goin December.
According to the website run by DHCD, “The Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) is designed to support and ensure housing stability across the commonwealth during the coronavirus pandemic. Depending on availability of funds and household need, the RRP may provide financial assistance for rent payments for eligible households. This includes financial assistance for rent payments past due beginning April 1, 2020 and onward with the opportunity for renewal based on availability of funding and the household’s need for additional assistance and continued eligibility. This assistance does not have to be repaid.”
It states, “Effective Dec. 1, 2021, RRP transitioned to a one-application system for both landlords and tenants to initiate and apply for rent relief. An updated, secure, and user-friendly portal known as Gov2Go allows you to access the Rent Relief Program on virtually any web-enabled device.”
Kayla Thompson said she got approved last summer, but her first check for $3,000 got lost in the mail. She said she has gone back and forth with the DHCD, but so far she has not been able to get the issue resolved. She said when Gov2Go took over, her application did not roll over and she had to re-apply.
She was able to get a second check through the new program, but she said it has been a nightmare trying to get answers about the first check she said she is still owed.
News 3 has been investigating the frustration felt by other tenants, property managers and landlords.
“If I can’t pay the mortgage, the bank will take the house,” said Steve Pfandl, who owns 12 properties in Virginia and several others in other parts of the country.
He said several of his renters have their applications tied up in the application process due to the new system. He said he is frustrated.
Miller said they've sent in 82 applications since December. Friday she said this week they have received eight approved applications back compared to five they've received in the last 4 months. She believes the News 3 report helped generate action to be taken to move the process along.
She said they now have a backlog of about 70 applications.
“We have tenants that are about to lose their home, owners about to lose their property, which will still leave the tenants homeless, so we just want the applications to be processed in a very timely manner. This is just been too hard,” said Miller.
News 3 also spoke with Phil Kazmierczak who is the President of Property Management at Atlantic Sotheby's International Realty.
He said it has been frustrating for landlords who have already been dealing with eviction restrictions throughout the pandemic. He said many are forced to sell their property which has a trickle-down impact. "Tenants are frustrated and they have every right to be. They were told that this money is available," said Kazmierczak.
News 3 asked GOVTOGO about the issues but they directed us back to the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Pfandl said he is losing money.
“I got one particular case where I haven’t received rent from December, February, March. Now it’s April. We still have no idea when they are going to approve,” said Pfandl.
He said if the government doesn’t approve the application, then he will start the eviction process which takes several weeks. He said he will not likely never see the money he is owed if that happens.
The website describes the Gov2Go portal as updated, secure and user-friendly, but not everyone agrees. “It’s supposed to be user-friendly for both tenants and owners, but that’s not the case at all,” said Miller.
“I would like to see them be transparent. Tell us why it is taking months and months and months, where under the old system it was a 30-day turnaround,” said Pfandl.
“It’s the process that's has taken long,” said Haynes. “The red tape, and all of us have had to deal with red tape at one point or another.”
She said she doesn’t understand why the media has to get involved to make things move quicker. “It’s sad because they [renters] know they’ve applied for rent relief. The government has promised this money that they have; it’s just not being sent out like they promised,” said Miller.
Some landlords have tried to get people evicted if they haven’t received rent in months.
Miller said that each judge has a different way of handling these kinds of situations. Many will not evict people if they are waiting to hear if they’re approved for the RRP.
But Pfandl and others speculate that certain renters are taking advantage of this situation, as they know they likely won’t get kicked out of their home if they don’t pay rent.
The News 3 I-Team reached out to DHCD to ask about the backlog for your agency, how people are currently waiting for a response about RRP, what is being done to fix this issue and what message they and for the public. This was the response:
“Through Jan. 31, the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) has processed and disbursed more than $648.4 million in 130,275 rent relief payments for more than 102,045 unique households throughout Virginia. DHCD will continue to streamline this program to efficiently and effectively administer to as many Virginians as possible.
There are approximately 40,000 cases in the system at various stages of review and processing
In regards to the average wait time, unfortunately, due to the many different factors with applications and the unique need for tenants and landlords to both be part of this process, we cannot provide you with a set time of how long it takes to process an application. Each situation is very different, and we continue to work with both parties to complete applications, then process for payment as quickly as possible.
We have adjusted staff roles based on the needs of the program. Since the transition to the new platform, we have continued to add staffing capacity and have increased staff by 200 since December. In addition, when tenants/landlords call Gov2Go they are able to quickly access a customer support representative.”
They said the total cases approved are 9,359, with $37,717,900.33 funds distributed.
“DHCD contracts with a third-party vendor to administer RRP. RRP has been a unique program that requires participation by both the landlord and tenant and since the inception of the program in June 2020, DHCD has worked closely with our landlord and tenant stakeholders to modify and align the program to meet the needs of all and continue to stabilize housing for more than 100,000 Virginians.
In addition to the input from our partners and stakeholders, DHCD implemented an Outreach and Engagement grant program with 13 grantees that cover the state to assist tenants and landlords who face high barriers in accessing the program, including lack of internet, accessibility and language issues. These grantees are able to fill out applications on behalf of tenants and landlords.
DHCD continues to monitor the program to streamline the processes for maximum effectiveness and efficiency in order to administer assistance to as many Virginians as possible, which in turn will keep landlords whole and tenants stably housed.”