To ease eviction crisis, Richmond must boost support for renters

RICHMOND, Va. (Public News Service) – Richmond needs to do more to help stem what some see as an eviction crisis, according to a new report.

The city should establish a centralized office for tenants to seek legal advice when facing an eviction, according to the report written by law students from Yale and Stanford universities. The report aimed to provide policy solutions to support a slew of laws passed by the Virginia Legislature this year to help reduce evictions.

It suggested ways to support renters after an eviction, and Christie Marra, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said it also recommended educating tenants about their rights.

“People need to understand what the court documents mean,” she said. “People need to understand that if they’re taken to court because they haven’t paid their rent, that there are a number of opportunities to pay rent before they get evicted.”

The state laws went into effect on July 1. Some landlords have said they approve of the report’s recommendations since evictions are costly for everyone involved.

2016 Princeton University report found that among large cities, Richmond has the second-highest eviction rate in the nation, at 11.4% – and four other Virginia cities made the top-10 list.

The report sparked this year’s Legislature to pass seven bills to help low-income renters avoid being kicked out. One bill, known as the Eviction Diversion Pilot Program, provides financial and legal assistance for folks who can’t afford their rent.

“We know that Legal Aid attorneys in Virginia can handle about 20% of the civil legal needs of low-income people,” Marra said, “so having a little bit more still doesn’t get us where we need to be, but it’s still very helpful.”

House Bill 1898 also became law, giving renters more time to catch up with unpaid rent and fees before an eviction judgment.

The Princeton University Eviction Lab data is online at evictionlab.org, details of the Eviction Diversion Pilot Program are here, and the text of HB 1898 is here.

Reporting by Diane Bernard


Bigger tax break for NYC green roofs

NEW YORK – Some building owners in New York City now have added incentive to create a green space on their roof.

A green-roof tax abatement has been available in the city for several years, but few owners have taken advantage of it. In an effort to change that, a new state law tripled the tax break from $5 to $15 per square foot in community districts where sewers overflow during rainstorms and that lack green spaces.

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It also extends the existing tax abatement through July 2024, said Emily Nobel Maxwell, director of The Nature Conservancy’s New York City program.

“The green-roof tax abatement offers an opportunity for landowners to install green roofs,” she said, “which will in turn help make our city more flood-resistant, more heat resistant and more biodiverse.”

Maxwell said putting a green roof on a building can be expensive, but the tax abatement can help defray the cost of installation and maintenance. She noted that green roofs not only absorb stormwater but also have insulating properties that increase a building’s energy efficiency and cut down on heating and cooling costs.

“Green roofs do show a return on investment over time,” she said, “so if that investment is made, there are certainly benefits to the property owner.”

Maxwell added that the increased energy efficiency also helps reduce carbon emissions. Other environmentally beneficial roof treatments include solar-panel installations or reflective coatings, and Maxwell said having a green roof doesn’t rule out other options.

“If you combine a green roof with solar,” she said, “you can get the benefits of a green roof, and the solar panels will run more efficiently because of the cooling benefit of the green roof.”

Maxwell said the next step will be for the city to determine which neighborhoods will be eligible for the new, higher green-roof tax abatements.

The text of the green-roofs bill is online at nysenate.gov.

Reporting by Andrea Sears and Dallas Heltzell

Gun-violence prevention activists say “shame on Sununu!”

CONCORD, N.H. — Some in the Granite State are saying “shame on Sununu” in response to the governor vetoing three gun-control measures last week.

New Hampshire advocates for curbs on gun violence held a press conference on Monday at the Legislative Office Building to express their concern that Gov. Chris Sununu wasn’t taking action after recent shootings in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio. The three bills would have required background checks and waiting periods for gun purchasers, and would have banned guns from schools in the state.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett, leader of the Kent Street Coalition Working Group on Gun Violence Prevention, said Sununu’s actions seem out of touch with his constituents’ needs.

“People are just so tired of being scared across the country, but including in New Hampshire,” Hahn-Burkett said. “People are starting to consider, ‘Well, it’s time to buy back-to-school supplies for the kids. Should we buy a bulletproof backpack?’ How is it OK that we’re here as a society?”

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Sununu has said that he doesn’t believe the bills would stop mass shootings, and called them an infringement on the constitutional rights of New Hampshire residents.

Supporters of the bills say they are common sense and are meant to curb gun violence, not to take guns away from law-abiding owners. Hahn-Burkett said Sununu is siding with the gun lobby instead of the 9-in-10 New Hampshire residents who support background checks for gun purchasers.

“You can still have a gun culture and yet have common-sense gun restrictions to work towards having a safer public,” she said.

As a candidate in 2016, Sununu said he would support legislation for universal background checks.

Reporting by Jenn Stanley


Montana gathering celebrates native two-spirit people

FLATHEAD LAKE, Mont. – Indigenous people from around the world this weekend at Flathead Lake are reclaiming the roles of what some refer to as “two-spirit” people.

The Montana Two-Spirit Society, a Native American organization formed by LGBT groups, is holding its 24th annual gathering.

The term “two-spirit” was coined in the 1990s for tribes that recognize people with both male and female characteristics who are gender non-conforming.

Steven Barrios, founder of the Montana Two Spirit Society, says two-spirit people traditionally had many roles, but their duties were removed when Europeans arrived in North America.

“We’re just reclaiming a lot of that responsibility – like as name givers, spiritual leaders, mediators,” he states. “We had so many different roles in our tribes that two-spirit people could do.”

The gathering is a drug and alcohol-free event and runs through Sunday. This year’s gathering also features the first annual youth gathering, which takes place Monday.

Barrios says the event for younger folks was put together at their request. He adds it’s important work because there has been a rise in suicides among two-spirit youth.

He explains the youth event will mirror the larger gathering and prepare the young people to host future events.

“We’re going to have them put a gathering committee together, show them how it’s done – the logistics, how to go about it – and put them in leadership roles, which I think is really great for our youth,” he states. “Once they’re put in a leadership role, it seems like it really instills a lot of pride in them and what they do.”

Barrios says Native Americans from tribes across the country, as well as indigenous people from Canada, Mexico, the Philippines and Samoan islands, will be in attendance.

Reporting by Eric Tegethoff

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