Pennsylvania’s eviction freeze ends tomorrow, July 10th. The temporary delay allowed residents suffering from the financial impact of COVID-19 to remain in their homes. Once the ban is lifted, landlords have the right to evict individuals and families behind on their rent payments. Already, homelessness is a dangerous and growing problem for Americans. But in the midst of a global pandemic, the risk becomes even greater.
Some tenants on federally subsidized properties remain protected until July 25. But for most of Pennsylvania, the end of legal safeguards brings a tidal wave of panic and uncertainty.
There are funds in place to help those in need. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency has pledged $150 million to help renters and landlords alike. They’ve also made an additional $25 million available to homeowners struggling with their mortgage. But that kind of aid comes with lots of red tape. Applicants may not see any money for weeks. And by that point? It might already be too late.
The application process opened on Monday. Phyllis Chamberlain, executive director of the Housing Alliance, expressed concern over the urgency of this situation. “It’s a massive program administered in all 67 counties. …I just don’t see how it’s possible to get the funds into the hands of people in need by Friday.” Legislation tied up with the program demands that agents look into unemployment claims. So the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency will need to verify the unemployment status of all applicants.
Already, during more normal times, the agency sees about 1,000 applications per month. And as we all know–we are no longer in normal times. The sudden spike in need will likely cause extreme delays in payouts. What are renters and landlords to do in the meantime?
The end of the eviction freeze may derail attempts to flatten the curve of COVID-19. Families and individuals on the streets do not have easy access to clean water.
Extending the moratorium could give the state time to get everyone’s houses in order. The Pittsburgh City Council urged the governor on Tuesday to extend the deadline until August 31. Allegheny County Council voted that same day to urge courts to extend all the way through December 1. Extending the freeze allows the Housing Finance Agency to distribute funds. Renters would be able to rest easy knowing they can’t be kicked out and aid is on the way.
But there are other worries at play, as well. The extra $600 weekly awarded by a pandemic assistance package ends this month as well. For many, that extra money is what’s helping to pay their rent. If that runs out, will payments drop even further? Currently, rent collections in the state are almost back to pre-pandemic levels. Losing the extra aid may undo all of that for many families.
Landlords have, thus far, been willing to work with tenants. But at some point, they will also need to collect. And then where do we go?