(Photo by Zari Tarazona)
This story is part of TRACE (Toward Response and Community Equity), a year-long series that will track how and where the region’s government, philanthropic, civic and private sector is working toward a more just recovery.
CLARIFICATION made on 09/01/20 at 10:23 a.m.— While agreeing that rental demand far outstripped their financial resources, The Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC) has requested additional clarification:
The City’s rental support program has been divided into two phases. Phase One is funded with the City’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) CARES money and offers a monthly rent assistance amount of $833.33 per month versus the statewide legislative cap of $750. Phase One had an application in May and in five days had far oversubscribed the $10 million funding available. Applications for Phase Two opened on July 6 and are rolling, with a cap of $28.45 million. Money for Phase Two can not be used for Phase One.
State CARES rental assistance money has not been used because, according to a PHDC spokeswoman, “the conditions in the legislation make it very difficult to get landlord participation and to review applications.”
The City asked for donations from the onset of Phase One to augment government funding. Finally, Greg Heller is the senior vice-president for community investment at PHDC and not the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Association.
First the pandemic took away people’s health. Then it took away their jobs. Now it is coming for their homes.
“All evictions are currently illegal across the state of Pennsylvania due to the pandemic. However, that protection is ending soon. If the state legislature does not act to extend the eviction moratorium, it will be catastrophic,” said Rasheedah Phillips, the managing attorney of housing policy at Community Legal Services. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has estimated a need for an additional $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to forestall an predicted 40 to 45% increase in homelessness by the end of the year.
Yet, despite the urgent need, the philanthropic sector is noticeably absent in the rental relief space.
Phyllis Chamberlain, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, said in a recent webinar that “the best help someone on the verge of an eviction can receive is financial help.” However, the majority of COVID-19 rental relief funding has come from the federal government’s $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), not grantmakers. A recent article in Inside Philanthropy challenged grantmakers arguing, “During an historic crisis, philanthropy’s emergency aid to nonprofit landlords, community land trusts and CDFIs should be higher.”
Although economic recovery has been slow and thousands of people in the area are still unemployed, the statewide moratorium on evictions is set to end on August 31, and the city’s Landlord Tenant court is set to open on September 3.
Back in July, when Governor Tom Wolf announced he was extending the moratorium until August 31st, he said, “It takes one more burden off of people who are struggling and ensures that families can remain in their homes so they can protect their health and well-being.”
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The burden is back.
Nationally, renters owe over $25 billion in back rent, which Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics predicts “could reach $69.8 billion by the end of the year.” One out of four renters couldn’t pay their August rent.
In a typical year nearly 1 in 14 renters in Philadelphia have eviction proceedings filed against them.
Annually, the Philadelphia Landlord-Tenant Court processes about 20,000 filings, the fourth most evictions in the country. In a typical year nearly 1 in 14 renters in Philadelphia have eviction proceedings filed against them and 70 percent of them are women of color.
In March, when the pandemic shuttered the country, almost 21 million renter households were already rent cost-burdened. This means they pay more than 30% of their income in rent. Another 11 million spend over 50% on income each month.
Nearly half of the city’s seniors live below 200% of the poverty level, making them especially vulnerable. According to Allen Glicksman, director of research and evaluation, for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, “Two things are clear about older renters in the city. First, that the proportion of older persons in rental units versus home owners has increased over the years and second, that this is overall and by and large a low-income population.”
Pennsylvania has received $3.9 billion in CARES funding and in May, Wolf allocated $175 million of the funds to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) for a COVID-19 Relief Mortgage and Rental Assistance program. The lion’s share, S150 million, is set aside for landlords of struggling renters adversely impacted by COVID-19. Payments could extend for up to six months, until Nov. 30. In Philadelphia the program pays up to $750 per month for up to six months.
However, the local COVID-19 relief funds have been vastly overrun by applications from desperate renters.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city is now asking for donations because its CARES funding was quickly dispatched. PHFA estimated 40,000 Philadelphians need help, 13,000 households applied for rent assistance but a first round of $10 million was only enough support for 4,000 households.
“We knew from the start we wouldn’t have nearly enough money to meet the demand that was out there,” explained Gregory Heller, senior vice-president for community investment. In the second round of funding, announced in late June, would provide help to about 6,300 people.
“We remain concerned that we are headed to a cliff,” Chamberlain explained, referring to the Pennsylvania Housing Alliance, during the webinar. “With the eviction moratorium in Pennsylvania set to expire on August 31 — we hope that’s extended — but whether or not it is, an eviction moratorium only keeps people from being thrown out of their homes but in the meantime, the rent is still due.”
The PHFA has a donate button on its website. A PHFA spokesperson told Generocity they’ve received over $76,500 in donations to be used for the rental assistance program.-30-
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