Last month, student activists at the University released a petition calling on University President Jim Ryan and administration to address the needs of students and the Charlottesville community amid the coronavirus pandemic. Multiple demands within the petition call for addressing housing issues for students and community members, which the University has already begun to address. In an email from Ryan and Provost Liz Magill, the University laid out plans to reimburse students for on-Grounds housing and dining costs. Although this initiative is certainly a positive step to help students that left their homes on Grounds, it only benefits a minority of students and does not affect community members. Therefore, the responsibility of ensuring affordable housing during a time of economic crisis has shifted to the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
During a time in which unemployment claims have spiked due to layoffs from the pandemic, Charlottesville housing agencies must follow in the University’s footsteps to ensure that those living in Charlottesville are able to afford their own housing during this unprecedented time. One of the most effective policies that Charlottesville can implement to guarantee this is to implement a rent freeze in the city and surrounding area.
At a University in which over 60 percent of students live off Grounds, the community’s decisions regarding any potential rent freezes will greatly impact the student population. However, a moratorium on rental payments for the duration of the close of non-essential businesses will certainly not only help students who live off Grounds, but Charlottesville community members. Not only have Charlottesville residents been undoubtedly impacted by the mandatory closure of most non-essential businesses, but the recent issuance of a statewide stay-at-home order will even further limit the opportunities for community members to find work during the pandemic. Although city officials have halted evictions for a short time due to the pandemic, payments themselves should also be halted. If leasing agencies will not take it upon themselves to freeze rents, the city government must step in.
Cities such as Oakland, Calif. have already implemented rent freezes, and others such as New York City have halted evictions and started conversations regarding the potential for a city-wide rent freeze. The freezes can halt rental payments and even prevent leasing companies from collecting late payment fees, as the law in Oakland did. During a time of such immense economic uncertainty and business closures, it is important for leasing companies to extend some sympathy to those who are contracted into their payments during a time when they may have lost their income.
It is clear that charging residents for their rent during this time is opportunistic and unethical. If leasing agencies are not going to recognize the issues that so many of their residents are facing during this time of incredible economic turmoil, the government must step in to make sure that tenants are not taken advantage of. However, with the lack of strong leadership from President Donald Trump, it seems unlikely that he would advocate for a response to this measure. Thus, it is time for local governments to act. Charlottesville's leaders must acknowledge the struggle that so many residents are going through, and quickly produce new legislation in order to protect the City's citizens — especially low-income individuals.
We are on track to see record numbers of unemployment throughout the country. The economic impacts of this outbreak are already hitting, and they are only bound to get worse as more and more people are infected every day. The Commonwealth’s recent stay-at-home order issued is necessary to keep all of us safe from this ever-worsening global pandemic, but it will also create economic hardships for countless citizens, particularly low-income residents. Now is the time for local governments to act to protect citizens from the greed of opportunistic leasing agencies. Without a rent freeze, thousands in Charlottesville and Albemarle County will be overcome with rental expenses, and the local government should not sit idly by and watch it happen.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors and their Senior Associate. The board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.