Governor to call on lawmakers to protect homeowners, renters, as House Democrats pitch Safe at Home bill package

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Governor is calling on legislators to protect renters and homeowners from evictions. It comes the day after the state moratorium on evictions expired, which protected people for not paying during the pandemic.

Governor Tom Wolf spoke at the YWCA Greater Harrisburg at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

He says keeping Pennsylvanians in their homes will also protect public health.

“Pennsylvanians shouldn’t lose their homes or have to worry about a place to live because of the financial hardships caused by COVID-19,” said Governor Wolf. “Pennsylvanians are making sacrifices to fight this pandemic, but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them. I’ve paused evictions for nearly four months, but now we need legislation. I urge the General Assembly to immediately pass a moratorium on evictions and fix flaws in a rent relief program so more people can get the help they need.”

The Wolf administration said it explored options to extend the moratorium, but it doesn’t have that power, so it’s now up to lawmakers.

Experts believe now that the moratorium has expired, there will be a rush to courthouses and a wave of evictions.

The state still has a renter relief program, but experts say landlords are reluctant to take advantage of that because it only covers $750 a month.

Monday, House Democrats released a package of Safe at Home bills. Among them was a proposal by Representatives Elizabeth Feidler and Austin Davis.

They want to add an extra one hundred million dollars to fully fund the Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program.

They also want to increase rental and mortgage assistance.

Plus, their bill would remove the requirements to verify unemployment and to go a month late on payments in order to get help.

House Democrats are currently conducting an online survey to collect data about how Pennsylvanians’ housing has been impacted by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, local communities are scrambling to keep people in their homes.

In Lancaster County, people can call 2-1-1 to reach the Eviction Prevention Network.

“2-1-1 will do a quick screening over the phone and will figure out which program is the best fit and make sure they get connected to someone very quickly,” said Mike Mckenna, the president of Tabor Community Services.

The governor called for changes to help renters:

  • Raise the $750 monthly cap on rent relief to at least 130% of HUD limits – In some parts of the state rent payments exceed $750 a month, therefore landlords decline to participate, leaving tenants without payment assistance.
  • Eliminate the requirement that households be 30 days behind on rent to be eligible for assistance – The requirement creates an unfair burden on applicants who prioritize rent and mortgage payments over paying for food, medicine or other bills.
  • Eliminate verification that applicants applied for unemployment compensation – The added administrative step creates unnecessary processing delays of applications and availability of assistance.
  • Provide landlords and mortgagees the option to forgive the remaining unpaid rent or mortgage payments or allow the balance to be repaid over one year – Offering property owners to recoup balance of payments should encourage participation in the program.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have each extended foreclosure and eviction moratoriums through Dec. 31. 

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