John Spratley

John Spratley is a 65-year-old veteran. He lived at Belmont Hills Apartments in Chesterfield with his wife and their three teenage children for 12 years. They were evicted at the beginning of July.

John fell behind at the start of the pandemic, but he kept paying rent through the summer. He thought the protections would allow him to catch up.

Now he and his family live at a Red Roof Inn. All five of them cram into a room with two queen beds.

boy on laptop

The teenagers started virtual school in September. On a recent visit, they were all working on their tablets, sitting on the floor and the bed. Seventh-grader Kyra was in the middle of a social studies section about slavery.

Antoinette Spratley, John's wife, was looking ahead to the holidays.

"I just hope we find something before this cold weather," she said. "I want to be in our place so we can have our Thanksgiving dinner like we always did."

The family has been here since they were evicted. Their church paid for their first few days at the motel, but mostly they've been living off of John's disability benefits.


On the other side of town, John dug through a storage shed that his church lets him use to keep the few belongings he has left.

"This little bit of stuff ain't even half of the stuff that I had to leave because the lady was rushing me," he said. "She only gave me till 3 o'clock. I've got two bedrooms, a front room, two closets."


A Larger Problem

The Spratleys' eviction is one of many in Virginia during the pandemic. Researchers with The Eviction Lab at Princeton University found there have been nearly 3,500 eviction filings in Richmond alone since March 15.

With many evictions, the details can be murky. The stories can conflict and be hard to follow. But eviction freezes and protections at the state and federal level had one goal: keep people in their homes until the pandemic could be contained. Spratley and his family were left behind.

"I got more applications," he said. "But we are still on the waiting list because so many people have been evicted. And they don't have enough to help everybody."

The CARES Act included a 120-day eviction moratorium for renters who receive federal assistance or live in a property with a federally-backed mortgage. It ended July 24, almost a month after Spratley was evicted.

On paper, it looked like his family qualified. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition's website has a searchable database of all the properties that were protected. Spratley's old apartment complex is listed there.

Palmer Heeton, an attorney for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, looked into Spratley's case.

"I think in large part, the reason that he hadn't reached out earlier, is because what happened with his case is quite confusing," Heenan said.

Some of the apartment complex was built using federal money — making it eligible for CARES Act protections — and some of it wasn't.

"If he had been living maybe just a few doors or a street over in the same apartment complex, he actually would have been protected from eviction," Heenan said.

John Spratley said many families have made the Red Roof Inn on Richmond's south side home, like his has since July 21, 2020.
(Photo: Julia Rendleman)

At the time Spratley was evicted, the only protection available was the CARES Act. That's because the state's temporary ban on evictions — which covered everyone in Virginia — ended on June 28, the day before Spratley was evicted. It wasn't reinstated until August 10, at the governor's request.

Heenan is certain that this patchwork of eviction protections is dangerous for families and the larger community.

"The fact that we have nearly 9,000 eviction lawsuits that are scheduled to be heard in the general district courts across the commonwealth in just the next seven or eight weeks is incredibly troubling," Heenan said.

There is no longer a statewide moratorium on evictions, and the federal ban is no longer automatic.Tenants now must prove they need help.


An attorney for the Spratleys' former rental agency, Lile Benaicha, said the company offered a rent deferral program for tenants who were impacted by the pandemic.

"I don't know the specifics of what thresholds need to be met to say that you will have a deferral," Benaicha said. "But yes, we were certainly trying to work with all of our residents to make sure that we were entering into payment plans with them."

But Benaicha said she didn't believe his delinquency was related to the pandemic anyway. She says he just fell behind.


Spratley credits his faith for getting him through an eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. "I couldn't save them [my family] on this [eviction] and it killed me... but I'm a prayer warrior and will get through this," he said. (Photo: Julia Rendleman)

Spratley says he had no idea such a program was available, even if he could have taken advantage of it.

But that's all behind him now. He's focused on moving forward. Antoinette was recently admitted to the hospital for complications with her diabetes. Things are more urgent than ever.

"This is a learning experience," he said. "And it's a wake-up call because you never know why things happen, and why God lets things happen. It's to wake you up."

Spratley said he hopes it's a wake-up call for other people too.