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Philadelphia City Council's Emergency Housing Protections Act was first introduced on May 1, 2020. Photo: Emma Lee/WHYY
Philadelphia City Council's Emergency Housing Protections Act was first introduced on May 1, 2020. Photo: Emma Lee/WHYY

A big win for Philadelphia renters as the Emergency Housing Protection Act passes City Council

Five of the original six bills in the act passed unanimously on June 18.

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After holding a late-night budget session on June 17, Philadelphia City Council was back at it a day later to unanimously pass five of the six bills part of the Emergency Housing Protection Act (EHPA).

The five bills are as follows:

  • An eviction moratorium until Aug. 31 in line with the federal moratorium on evictions and foreclosures announced by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae on the same day of EHPA’s passage (Gym)
  • The creation of an eviction diversion program that will run through Dec. 31 that requires landlords and tenants affected by the COVID-19 shutdown to resolve issues before formal eviction is filed (Gym)
  • Allow renters with financial hardship to pay rent over an extended period through a nine-month repayment plan (Gauthier)
  • Allow renters that are victims of illegal lockouts to recover damages (Gauthier) 
  • Waive late fees on rent during the pandemic for those experiencing COVID-19 hardship (Brooks)

A resolution also passed to call on the PA Assembly and U.S. Congress to provide municipalities with a relief package to stabilize housing markets and provide support for property owners and landlords.

The package of bills, first introduced back on May 1, were in response to what its core councilmembers called a pending “avalanche of evictions” coming as a result of the economic haymaker laid on the city by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That hit kept Philadelphia in the red phase of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s three-phase reopening plan for two months and five days. 

In that time and phase, only essential businesses could continue regular operations, keeping a majority of workers home. Those that couldn’t work remotely were out of it.

Philadelphia is now in the yellow phase of the governor’s reopening plan. It’s allowed some to return to work, but others will still have to wait another two weeks before the city enters the green phase on July 3.

Without work, more and more Philadelphians, especially those living paycheck to paycheck, fell behind on rent and utility payments as the shutdown stretched from days and weeks to months. 

At first, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court extended the state’s eviction moratorium through April before Wolf further extended it to July 10. However, the moratorium only put off the filing of evictions by landlords, not rent payments by tenants.

Councilmembers Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier and Kendra Brooks introduced two bills a piece as part of the EHPA. 

Most stayed the same throughout the journey from committee to council and passage, but some finer details were ironed out along the way.

Gym’s original bills extended the eviction moratorium by 60 days and created an eviction diversion program for renters. Gauthier’s allowed renters to pay rent back over an extended period of time and provide renters an avenue to recover damages in the event of an illegal lockout by a landlord. Brooks’ two waived late fees for renters and input a rent freeze for the duration of the pandemic and for a year after it ending.

The package of six went for two rounds of virtual public hearings before being trimmed to five (only Brook’s rent freeze proposal was rejected at the committee level) and sent to all of City Council on June 5.

Another week passed before EHPA’s introduction and unanimous passage by all of City Council on June 18.

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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