Eviction Crisis: Pa. uses $95.5 million in rent relief to balance budget

Investigators

Hanover, Pa. (WHTM) — Like many Pennsylvanians, Christopher Turner was hoping CARES Act funding, set aside for rent relief, would help keep his family in their Hanover apartment after he and his fiancée lost their jobs during the pandemic.

He was upset to find out that more than $95 million in rent relief never made it into the hands of those that needed the help.

“I find it disgraceful. As it stands, we are about $7,700 behind on the rent. We are out of options at this point,” said Turner.

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) oversaw the state’s rent relief program. There was $150 million available. The PHFA says 28,687 landlords and 46,282 tenants statewide applied for more than $121.6 million dollars in rent relief.

Of the $150 million available, only $54.4 million made it into the hands of those that needed the help. The state took the remaining $95.5 million.

“That money was used by the General Assembly to fill gaps in the budget for the Department of Corrections,” said Phyllis Chamberlain, Executive Director, Housing Alliance of PA.

The Housing Alliance of PA works to increase access to safe and affordable homes. It estimates more than 230,000 Pennsylvania households are facing eviction due to the pandemic.

With so many needing help, why did the state’s rent relief program fall short?

“The main challenege with the state program is there were caps on the amount of rental assistance that a tenant could receive per month and there were also a number of requirements on landlords, which for some landlords just didnt make sense so they didnt want to partcipate in the program. I would honestly say for good reason,” said Chamberlain.

There is some good news. The recent federal COVID-19 stimulus legislation included $25 billion in rental assistance.

“It is estimated that Pennsylvania will receive $852 million. What will be critical is when the state makes decisiions about the program that they don’t add additional burden on both tenants and landlords. With so many households and landlords struggling it’s an opportunity to make sure we do it right this time,” said Chamberlain.

This time if Pennsylvania does not use the money it will go back to the U.S. Treasury.

As for Turner, the management company that owns his apartment complex decided not to participate in the state rent relief program, so his family has run out of time. To avoid the eviction process they are moving out of their apartment in a few weeks.

“I hate leaving on these terms and I do plan on paying them what I owe them, but it will have to be later on down the road. I will just start making payments to them,” said Turner.

Turner, his fiancée, and their two children have managed to avoid going to a shelter for now.

“One of my customers, before my phone got cut off, was kind enough to open up her home. We will pay her like $300 a month to help with food,” said Turner.

But the help is only temporary. Turner is still unemployed and is still waiting on his unemployment checks. He decided to try the only option he felt he had left. He has started a GoFundMe page to raise rent money.

“We are setting a goal right now of $2,200 to try and find us a place to live. It will be first months rent and security deposit. Neighbors helping neighbors at this point,” said Turner.

For a more detailed look at PHFA’s “Final Data by County” for CARES Rent Relief Program, as of Dec. 21, 2020, refer to the Renter’s Assistance Numbers.

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