Legislature Approves Changes to Emergency Rental and Housing Assistance Programs as Eviction Moratorium Set to End
With the end of the national moratorium on evictions related to pandemic downturn set to end July 31, the General Assembly and governor approved measures to make it easier for counties to drive federal emergency assistance to affected renters and landlords, as well as a $350 million grant program for homeowners as the Department of Human Services prepares to launch a household water assitance program to prevent shutoffs and restore service to those affected by pandemic-related hardship.
“Thank you to all who repeatedly contacted lawmakers throughout this pandemic, urging them to remove barriers to already allocated federal relief funds,” LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale said. “Because of your ministries of accompaniment with those experiencing or facing potential homelessness, you know the stress individuals and families are under, jumping through administrative hoops and dealing with overwhelmed services agencies while trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.”
Bills have been piling up while federal relief dollars have been slow to make their way through state and county systems. An estimated one-third of Pennsylvania renters were reported to be behind on payments this spring. “We are grateful to policymakers for recognizing the importance of keeping people housed and hope these changes come in time to avert a wave of evictions,” DePasquale said. Learn more about creating an eviction prevention strategy in your county or community.
+ Register for the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s three-part webinar series (July 28, August 4, and August 11 from 3-4:30 pm ET) Series will provide emergency rental assistance (ERA) program administrators, state and local partners, and community stakeholders with tools and best practices to ensure that ERA reaches households experiencing the worst impacts of the pandemic—including households of color, people with disabilities, and immigrant communities—in time to prevent housing loss and eviction.
The American Rescue Plan Act that passed Congress in March 2021 included additional funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). Including payments allocated directly to larger counties by the U.S. Treasury, Pennsylvania and its jurisdictions will receive more than $762 million in this round of ERAP. Of that funding, Treasury allocated $450 million directly to the state. The state is distributing funds to each county according to the same population-based formula that the state used to distribute the first round of ERAP funding earlier this year. Hear from state and county officials about how the programs are working and you can help get the word out to those who may have been discouraged by inability to participate in 2020. A further $49 million that Pennsylvania received for high-needs jurisdictions will be set aside for low-income, high-needs households. Learn more, including how to apply.
LAMPa and partners in the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania advocated that the General Assembly not to impose restrictions on this funding more stringent than required by federal law or guidance, so that funds can be sent out as quickly as possible to struggling renters and landlords and are pleased that the state legislation does not place extra restrictions. Counties may use up to 10% of their new allocations for housing stability services (including mediation, legal services, and housing counseling) and up to 15% for administrative costs. Learn more about prioritizing those in most need.
The legislation also allows counties to use applicant self-certification for income to the extent allowable by federal guidance, which will help speed up payments, particularly for those whose employers were unresponsive to requests for documentation. It further restricts counties from placing any limitations on assistance additional to federal law or guidance.
The legislature also made several important changes to the law governing the state allocation of the first round of ERAP funding. It removed the 5% cap on administrative costs, which had limited the ability of counties (especially those with smaller populations) to process applications quickly and conduct outreach to tenants and landlords. It also extended the expenditure certification deadlines required of counties to align with the new expenditure deadlines put in place by the American Rescue Plan Act. Counties must now certify by July 31 of this year what percentage of their first-round allocations they have obligated and what percentage they expect to obligate by September 20, 2022.
With funds from the American Rescue Plan, the legislature also created the Homeowners Assistance Grant Program. The $350 million program will assist with mortgage payments, principal reduction, interest rate reduction, utilities, internet, fees, and insurance costs. The program, to be administered by the Pa. Housing Finance Agency, also provides for housing stability services to help prevent foreclosure and loss of utility service.
The Department of Human Services will administer the new Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, with $43 million in funding allocated to Pennsylvania by Congress through COVID relief legislation. The program will help pay water and wastewater debt and bills owed to public water authorities by low-income families.