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Virginia Organizing to hold a rally in Waynesboro Saturday to address issues tenants face in the city

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 5:13 PM EST
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WAYNESBORO, Va. (WHSV) - People in Waynesboro are calling on city council to take action to address housing issues in the city.

“We want to see more landlord accountability, we want to see systems put in place to ensure landlord accountability and we want to see improvements in the living conditions some of these tenants are dealing with,” Emily Smarte, Waynesboro tenant and community leader with Virginia Organizing.

The American Community Survey shows nearly 32 percent of housing units in Waynesboro have substandard living conditions. In the Basic City Neighborhood, that number jumps to 40 percent, which is one of the highest rates in Valley.

“There’s a lot of folks in Waynesboro, in particular housing units too, who are experiencing mold issues and bug infestations, substandard living conditions that are not being addressed by their landlords,” Smarte said.

“I’ve seen cramped conditions, a large family in a small space, larger apartments are not available. There are places without ventilations, so there’s kind of a strange smell,” Victor Monti, a Community Lead for the Waynesboro Chapter of Virginia Organizing, added.

Tenants in Waynesboro are also suffering from high rates of evictions.

“Waynesboro is 84th in the nation, of all the cities in the nation, for highest eviction rate,” Smarte said.

These conditions create health concerns for those living in rentals with nowhere else to go.

“They’re getting physical problems, and they’re getting worse. Their mental health issues are getting worse. There’s a lot of stress in that kind of environment of not knowing what’s going to happen or the stress of being in a place that you’re not comfortable in,” Monti said.

It can also create financial struggles as well.

“It’s costly to have to put down a new security deposit and make extra doctors appointments when you’re living with mold,” Smarte said.

For Smarte, she says she’s had problems with the price of rent and not being able to find an affordable place to live that is safe.

“I’ve had to move around a lot from town to town kind of running from rent and housing costs. Rent costs go up so high that I can’t keep up, so I’ve got to move and switch towns,” Smarte said. “I’m a single mom, so my son has to keep moving around and going to new places.”

And the pandemic has made it even tougher to find somewhere else to live.

So, Waynesboro’s Chapter of Virginia Organizing is working to see some change within the city.

Community members will be gathering at the intersection of North Delphine Avenue and East Main Street at 1 p.m. for a rally Saturday calling on city council to address the barriers renters in Waynesboro face in finding quality rental housing.

“Renter protection as well and the landlord oversight that includes some kind of minimum standard that is enforced,” Monti added.

People will be coming to share their own experiences with living in Waynesboro.

“People who get to tell their stories, brave people who are willing to share because it’s not something you’re proud of, but it’s the circumstance you’re living in. That’s what is really important. There are real people, and they’re going through some difficult circumstances,” Monti said.

WHSV reached out to Waynesboro’s Mayor Bobby Henderson for comment on tomorrow’s rally and a response on the calls for change, but has not yet heard back.

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