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Councilmember Helen Gym was the chief proponent of the Eviction Diversion Program. Photo: Michelle Myers/AL DÍA News
Councilmember Helen Gym was the chief proponent of the Eviction Diversion Program. Photo: Michelle Myers/AL DÍA News

Philly’s lauded Eviction Diversion Program to stay in place through 2022

It has become a model for other cities since its implementation in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Philadelphia’s eviction diversion program will remain in place through the end of 2022. The nationally recognized initiative that was set to expire this month has reduced evictions by 75% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“We look forward to a new era that takes us out of an emergency and into a permanent approach towards seeing evictions as a course of last resort and not the first and default option,” said Councilmember Helen Gym, who introduced the bill to keep the program in place.

On Thursday, Dec. 16, City Council voted unanimously in favor of continuing the program. The legislation doesn’t outline a permanent version of the program, but it allows the city to keep it in place without permission needed from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 

Until now, the court has monitored the temporary program on an emergency basis, but the program is now law in the city code. 

Almost half of Philadelphia residents are renters, and renters are more likely than homeowners to work in industries hit hardest by the pandemic. The city launched the program last September to help landlords and tenants who had lost income because of the pandemic. The federal government has cited the program as a model for other cities. 

Currently, landlords seeking to file an eviction must first sign up for the eviction diversion program and apply for city rental assistance. 

The program encourages the landlord, the tenant and a mediator to resolve disputes before going to court. This helps tenants avoid having court filings on their records, which can negatively impact their ability to purchase a house in the future. 

Landlord-tenant court has depended on the program’s pre-filing requirement to manage its backlog of eviction cases. Without it, the wave of eviction filings would bombard the court, according to Patrick Dugan, president judge of Philadelphia Municipal Court. 

Dugan wrote of the success of the program when he asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to extend its authorization through February. 

“In essence, the anticipated ‘tidal wave’ of evictions has been successfully redirected to alternative dispute resolution utilizing federal funds and most of the cases have been resolved there,” Dugan wrote. 

In more than 90% of the nearly 2,500 cases in the program, landlords and tenants have either reached an agreement or agreed to keep negotiating, officials said. 

Abraham Reyes Pardo, director of housing at the Urban League of Philadelphia, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the data shows that many of these cases do not belong in court, especially disputes over small amounts of money that can be resolved through payment plans. 

“To say that the coalition of agencies led by the city has made this a very successful program would be an understatement,” Reyes Pardo said.

City officials also say the Eviction Diversion Program has been vital in allowing Philadelphia to distribute more than $240 million in rental assistance. 

“Philly’s renowned eviction diversion program is now law! This is the model that showed the country we can end poverty-based evictions by helping struggling renters and landlords alike,” Senator Nikil Saval wrote on Twitter. 

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