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Photo: Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer
Photo: Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Act now,” 55 community orgs in PA urge Governor Wolf to extend his eviction moratorium

In a letter released on July 8, a coalition led by Make the Road PA warned of a pending eviction crisis in the state.

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In Philadelphia, members of its City Council warned of an “avalanche of evictions” that would follow should the city fail to pass their Emergency Housing Protections Act (EHPA).

And it worked. Aside from one lawsuit from a group of landlords, the package of bills passed unanimously.

Part of that package extended the moratorium for new eviction filings in the city’s landlord-tenant court until Aug. 31. A ruling from Philadelphia’s First Judicial District also extended the moratorium on cases already on the books to Sep. 2, once again granting renters a reprieve and housing as coronavirus enters another uptick phase.

But that’s not the reality for the rest of Pennsylvania. 

That same “avalanche of evictions” leading to crisis decried by Philly’s leaders still has a start date of July 10 — the end of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s eviction moratorium, which he ordered back at the beginning of May

In response, 55 community organizations from across PA joined together to issue a letter to Governor Wolf in the last days before his order is up, urging him to extend it “indefinitely.”

“Across Pennsylvania, 32% of households — more than 1.58 million — rent their homes and will be at risk of eviction, homelessness, and contracting the virus without your immediate action,” read the letter.

Wolf’s initial order, like Philly’s extended one, stopped the filing of new evictions in court, but did not stop monthly rent payments, making it especially difficult to pay for those who lived paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic and government-mandated quarantine.

The letter highlights how this especially affects Black and brown working class communities in the state that are already facing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantine or not. 

“Housing is health care, and housing is a human right. In the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, the ability to shelter and be safe at home is lifesaving, something that shouldn’t be reserved just for those wealthy enough to continue paying rent,” said the letter from the coalition.

It goes on to praise Philadelphia’s action against the pending eviction crisis, but cites cities like Reading and Allentown, “where 60% of households are renters, [and] a third of renters pay more than half their income in rent, qualifying as ‘severely rent-burdened’ according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

That’s not to mention, PA was also one of the states with the most unemployment filings as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown.

As for rent help beyond Philadelphia, Pennsylvania does have a CARES Rent Relief Program providing at least $150 million for rental assistance as part of the state’s $3.9 billion CARES Act allocation.

However, the letter from the coalition expressed concern at Pennsylvanians being able to actually benefit from the program before the eviction tidal wave hits. 

The statewide Rent Relief program started accepting applications on July 6, four days before the governor’s eviction moratorium order is set to expire. Applications for assistance could take up to 30 days.

“This is far too late to prevent evictions, should the moratorium expire this Friday,” said the letter.

“We urge you to act now.”

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations, focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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