NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — For six months 52-year-old Richard of Newport News has been trying to find a place to live and just can't afford it.
"I've been homeless for a long time and a lot of people helped me out," said Richard.
He works at a car repair shop and is recovering from a drug and alcohol addiction, but the few hundred dollars a week he makes is never enough to secure shelter. Thanks to the Five Loaves Food Pantry in Denbigh, he's able to eat.
Father Tim Luken runs the pantry.
"The people who come in here often have a choice: do I pay rent or do I put food on the table?" he said.
Luken, who also sits on the Greater Virginia Peninsula Homelessness Consortium, sees firsthand a problem that's growing out of control. Many of the people who seek food are also in need of housing.
"We probably see between three and four families a week."
And many of those families, according to Luken, were evicted after landlords sold their properties and were left unable to find affordable shelter.
"All of sudden given 30 days. Tear up their lives. Tear up their kids in school," Luken said.
According to Old Dominion University's 2022 State of the Region Report, one-third of Hampton Roads residents are spending more than 30% of their income on housing. One in seven spends more than 50%.
According to Virginia Realtors, the average rent in Virginia shot up 11% in the first quarter of this year to $1,546.
In fact, Christie Marra with the Virginia Poverty Law Center said rent has gone up by double-digit percentages for the past several quarters.
"I've been doing landlord-tenant representation for over 30 years and I've never seen anything like this," she said.
Marra recently joined Newport News Delegate Marcia Price and 3rd District Congressman Bobby Scott for an affordable housing roundtable discussion.
Part of the problem is driven by inflation and a strained supply chain that slowed down the pace of creating affordable housing. Housing advocates agree it will take legislation to achieve rent stabilization.
"It puts a mechanism in the law that limits the amount of increase that a landlord can increase his or her rent by," said Marra, who wants to see increases match.
Price also wants to target application fees and security deposits.
"There are people who are putting in application fees on places that were never going to be rented to them. That's money that could be saved if there was a disclosure notice on best practices," Price said.
"Reducing the maximum amount of security deposit a landlord can charge from two months rent to one month rent is a very small first step," Marra added.
Price would also like to see legislation, like a bill she sponsored last General Assembly session, that would hold landlords more accountable for renting subpar units that pose safety hazards.
Governor Glenn Youngkin vetoed the bill.
Next session, Price plans to fight even harder.
"Things that were previously bipartisan somehow became super polarized," she explained. "People call me radical because I think families should have somewhere to live that's safe. That's not radical. That's a human right."