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Nicolas O'Rourke. Credit: City Council
Nicolas O'Rourke. Credit: City Council.

Eviction Moratorium is not enough

Why we must support the Emergency Housing Protection Act.

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By Nicolas O'Rourke, Organizing Director, PA Working Families Party

 

The COVID crisis has shown that while we are all battling a collective storm, we're not all in the same boat. Nationally, COVID 19 has already killed more people than the Vietnam War and left 30 million unemployed. When it comes to infection rates and economic impact, Philadelphia's Black and brown communities, which have historically been denied the resources needed to thrive, have been hit hardest by COVID-19

Currently, 26 percent of Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment. May 1st has come and gone, and with over 30 million filings for unemployment nationwide, many working families here in Philadelphia couldn’t make rent this month. Many more have been deemed “essential” workers: our grocery store workers, home care workers, and gas station workers. We have rightly recognized them as critical to the functioning of our city, but still, fail to pay them a wage they can live on. 

The crisis is highlighting and compounding longstanding inequality in our city. Even before this crisis, Philadelphia was already suffering from a housing crisis that disproportionately affects people of color and low-income communities. In all, about half of all Philadelphians rent their homes, 1 in 4 live in poverty, and over 20,000 residents face eviction every year.

At this moment we need to live up to Philadelphia’s motto as the "city of brotherly love and sisterly affection." COVID-19 has shown us that our health and wellbeing are connected. We must take steps to ensure that each of us has what we need to get through this together. That is why it is morally unconscionable for us to expect working families in Philadelphia to navigate the challenges and physical distancing measures if they lose the roof over their heads. We must take steps to prevent homelessness and displacement.

I was honored to witness Kendra Brooks' historic and successful bid to win a seat on City Council up close. Councilmember Brooks ran on a promise to make Philadelphia a place where all Philadelphians could not only survive, but thrive. It makes me so proud to see her make good on that promise by introducing rent freeze legislation as part of the Emergency Housing Protection Act, introduced last Friday.  This set of bills will keep renters in their homes and help landlords maintain occupancy and long-term cash flow as we come out of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Emergency Housing Protection Act would freeze rent for a year, waive late fees for tenants, and create an eviction diversion program to help tenants and landlords mitigate issues before they lead to eviction. There is also legislation centered around landlords too. Included is a limit on when landlords could file for evictions and calls for federal and state assistance to help provide comprehensive relief to help landlords avoid foreclosure. In total, this would not only help renters, but property owners as well deal with the crippling financial burdens created by the crisis.

As the crisis has unfolded in our city, I've had the opportunity to personally talk to many Black and Brown residents. Many are terrified of what this virus means not only for their health and livelihoods. Housing is an issue that reaches across the city. Councilmember Brooks knows this all too well, having lost ownership of her own home to sheriff's sale. This is why it is important that the folks representing us, look like us, and come from our communities. We need people who know the struggles poverty creates at the decisionmaking table, helping to push solutions.

With potentially millions on the precipice of homelessness on a scale this city has never seen before, we must act swiftly. The federal government has failed its test of leadership, so it’s up to us to act now. I urge the City Council to follow the bold leadership Councilmembers Kendra Brooks, Helen Gym, and Jamie Gauthier are showing, and support the Emergency Housing Protection Act.

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