The Virginia Legal Aid Society, Inc. (VLAS) will establish an office in Martinsville-Henry County to provide legal and advocacy support for residents through a three-year grant of $300,000 from The Harvest Foundation.
Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation, said this is part of a continuing effort to build a strong support system for the local workforce, and will focus on maintaining stable housing for individuals.
“As local job opportunities are increasing, many people now entering the workforce are new employees or may be coming back after a prolonged absence, and they need support as they may not have a strong financial foundation yet,” Agee said. “Their path forward can easily fall apart if they run into a financial situation that leads to a housing issue or eviction. Virginia Legal Aid will have an attorney dedicated to Martinsville-Henry County residents who will assist them in navigating those issues.”
High poverty rates, low median incomes and high eviction rates were cited as major barriers to safe and secure housing in the area, according to the grant application. Eviction rates for Martinsville are 7.23 percent and 4.38 percent in Henry County, compared with a national rate of 2.34 percent. The project’s major goals are to improve the safety and stability of housing for low-income residents, supporting their ability to participate in the workforce.
“Eviction rates in the Martinsville area, like much of Virginia, far exceed the national average,” said David Neumeyer, Executive Director of Virginia Legal Aid Society. “Our attorneys can provide critical services to tenants and creative solutions to landlords to reduce evictions and increase support for Martinsville’s workforce. We are grateful to The Harvest Foundation for funding our effort to help provide safe and secure housing options for the area.”
Virginia Legal Aid has provided free legal support to the community since its inception in 1977, but services are provided through the Danville office with an attorney traveling to Martinsville for appointments. The organization plans to have an office established in Martinsville in the first quarter of 2020 with the goal of serving 150 people in the first year.
“This program is about being proactive,” Agee added. “As we increase the capacity of housing and build the housing market throughout our community, we’re also putting safeguards in place to ensure area residents have support in finding affordable and stable housing. Virginia Legal Aid also will tackle other legal barriers low-income residents face to help them with services they may not be able to afford otherwise.”