Gov. Wolf Urges Legislature to Protect Homeowners and Renters from Eviction
As his moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expired, Gov. Tom Wolf was joined by Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) Executive Director and CEO Robin L. Wiessmann, Sen. Jay Costa, Rep. Maureen Madden and advocates to urge the legislature to quickly pass legislation to protect Pennsylvanians from eviction from their homes and fix a state program so it helps more homeowners and renters as intended.
“Pennsylvanians shouldn’t lose their homes or have to worry about a place to live because of the financial hardships caused by COVID-19,” said Wolf. “Pennsylvanians are making sacrifices to fight this pandemic, but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them. I’ve paused evictions for nearly four months, but now we need legislation. I urge the General Assembly to immediately pass a moratorium on evictions and fix flaws in a rent relief program so more people can get the help they need.”
“We know that language and other barriers in the rent and mortgage relief application process have prevented many people from being able to stabilize their housing situation,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. “We were experiencing a housing crisis before COVID. The pandemic has only increased the risks. The anxiety over potentially losing a home and the harm to health associated with homelessness carry serious implications for families and communities. A surge in homelessness could easily overwhelm our already strained emergency response systems — especially if we are faced with a natural disaster in a year already forecast to experience an above-average number of major storms.”
Since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court eviction moratorium expired in May, the governor has signed executive orders on May 7 and July 9 that protected Pennsylvanians from foreclosures and evictions. The recent order expired Aug. 31, and the state’s Emergency Services Code does not allow the governor to provide further relief related to temporary housing, said Wolf, who argued legislation is necessary to further pause evictions and ensure people have a stable place to live as the economy continues to recover.
The governor is also urging the General Assembly to fix defects in Act 24 of 2020, which provides $175 million in rent and mortgage relief using CARES Act funds. The program, administered by the PHFA, has a cumbersome application process and is helping fewer people than expected.
The governor called for changes to help renters:
Raise the $750 monthly cap on rent relief to at least 130% of HUD limits – In some parts of the state rent payments exceed $750 a month, therefore landlords decline to participate, leaving tenants without payment assistance.
Eliminate the requirement that households be 30 days behind on rent to be eligible for assistance – The requirement creates an unfair burden on applicants who prioritize rent and mortgage payments over paying for food, medicine or other bills.
Eliminate verification that applicants applied for unemployment compensation – The added administrative step creates unnecessary processing delays of applications and availability of assistance.
Provide landlords and mortgagees the option to forgive the remaining unpaid rent or mortgage payments or allow the balance to be repaid over one year – offering property owners to recoup balance of payments should encourage participation in the program.
“In the first two months of managing the relief programs for renters and homeowners, we’ve learned things that can make the programs work better and get assistance out to more people,” said PHFA Executive Director and CEO Robin Wiessmann. “Making these changes, and extending the application deadline, should help us assist considerably more people and, most importantly, prevent them from becoming homeless.”
The governor sent letters to the House and Senate last week outlining the recommendations.
“No one should worry about losing the roof over their head at the same time they’re worried about contracting a highly contagious, deadly virus,” said Senator Jay Costa. “It’s our job to keep families safe, not stand idly by as they’re made homeless in droves. I call on the Senate Republicans to call us back into session immediately to extend the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.”
“We were in a housing crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Maureen Madden. “All the virus has done is stripped away the façade and exposed the crumbling beams. Now, one in five renters and homeowners can’t make their monthly payments. Think about it. How many people live on your street? Now think about every fifth house empty. We must act now.”
“In all these years, I have never missed a payment, but I am currently in the situation where I need to choose between risking my life, as I am immune-compromised,” said Jesús Rodriguez. “Many Pennsylvanians have lost jobs and income, and we need the legislature to extend the moratorium on evictions to protect working-class families from homelessness.”
To further help renters, the governor is proposing an additional $100 million for the Rent Relief Program to provide more financial assistance on behalf of low- to moderate-income renters having trouble making rent payments as a result of the pandemic. Assistance would remain as grants with funds paid directly to landlords or property owners.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have each extended foreclosure and eviction moratoriums related to their programs through Dec. 31.