HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A federal freeze on most evictions passed last year is expected to expire on July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by one month.
The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool allowing millions of tenants to stay in their homes. Many of them lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and were months behind on their rent.
The owners successfully challenged the order in court, arguing that they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $ 45 billion in federal funds set aside to help pay rent and related expenses.
Tenant advocates say the cash flow has been slow and it takes longer to distribute it and reimburse landlords. Without an extension, they feared an upsurge in evictions and lawsuits aimed at chasing tenants behind on their rents.
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Here is the situation in Pennsylvania:
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF STATE DELETION MORATORIES?
The Pennsylvania court-ordered housing eviction moratorium ended in August 2020, but there have also been local moratoria in at least two cities. In Philadelphia, an order requiring landlords to go through the Philadelphia Eviction Diversion Program before seeking a court eviction for non-payment of rent is also about to expire, but lawyers say it could be extended. In Harrisburg, a city-wide moratorium on evictions – which also extended to rooming houses – expired in mid-June. In January, the state Supreme Court changed the rules for homeowners, giving them more time to seek repossession of their properties.
WHAT IS BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE TARGETING EVICTIONS?
In January, Pennsylvania used its share of federal pandemic housing relief money to set up the $ 570 million emergency rent assistance program, which helps pay rent, past due rents, utilities and other housing costs related to COVID-19. An additional $ 280 million went directly to the state’s largest counties and Pittsburgh. The program started in March, but in some cases the money is just starting to flow.
There are tens of thousands of pending applications for federal support in Philadelphia alone, according to Community Legal Services. Local efforts have also been made to support tenants in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. In the Harrisburg area, the Capital Region Fair Housing Council has carried out awareness campaigns, attended eviction hearings with tenants and disseminated information about the help they can provide.
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Matthew Rich, tenants’ attorney for MidPenn Legal Services in Harrisburg, said Dauphin County had provided rent assistance to just over 200 applicants since March 1, but still had nearly 2,000 claims in waiting. âI don’t think one can stress enough how inundated the ERAP application system is across the board, across the state,â Rich said.
HOW DO THE COURTS HANDLE EXVICTION HEARINGS?
Lawyers say procedures and practices have varied across the state, in some cases from courtroom to courtroom within a county. At the start of the pandemic, some judges suspended all eviction proceedings while others continued to evict tenants for issues such as criminal activity, damage to housing or having people not licensed living in a house. As of the start of this year, courts have generally dealt with eviction cases, but do not issue final eviction orders for non-payment of rent. This means in many cases that the owners were not allowed to take possession of their properties and change the locks. Community Legal Services say about 2,000 tenants in Philadelphia alone are on the verge of eviction once city courts begin to allow the measure.
WHAT IS AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
Experts say there is a shortage of quality affordable housing in Pennsylvania, with a significant percentage of renters paying 30-50% of their gross income in rent. âAs with a two-bedroom apartment, we are looking for an average of $ 1,000 per month,â said Rita Dallago of the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association in Camp Hill.
Philadelphia is affordable compared to other major cities, but it is the poorest of the 10 largest cities in the country, making its housing less affordable for its residents. Rich said affordable rental housing can often be substandard. âIf you find somewhere affordable, it’s generally affordable because there are issues with the property that make it affordable,â Rich said.
SHOULD EVICTIONS CREATE AN INCREASE IN HOMELESSNESS?
A recent US Census Bureau study suggests that more than 73,000 Pennsylvanians are quite or very likely to lose their homes to eviction in the next two months. Many people involved with tenants and landlords fear an increase in the number of homeless people.
âThis is what we mean,â said Dallago. âAnd we have a housing shortage – there’s no two ways about it. And this housing shortage will get worse before it gets better.