Midstate housing advocates warn of mounting eviction crisis

Both tenants and landlords struggle to pay bills as the federal eviction moratorium expiration looms and employment in the commonwealth remains above the national average.

  • Julia Agos

(Harrisburg) – Regional housing advocates, warning of a crisis on top of a crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic, say Congress should extend a federal moratorium on evictions into 2021.

Nearly 250,000 Pennsylvanians could be at risk of eviction if the moratorium expires Dec. 31, according to The National Council of State Housing Agencies.

And The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that number nationwide is nearly 19 million.

Congress is considering a new COVID-19 relief bill that includes a ban on evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages, according to NPR.

Todd Capitao with Tabor Community Services, a social assistance organization in Lancaster County, said the number of people struggling to pay rent has increased exponentially since a statewide rental assistance program ended in August.

In a panel discussion on WITF’s Smart Talk, he said the CDC declaration is key to giving people more time to connect with relief programs and understand their protections.

“If we can’t see them today, we at least have some security that they’re not going to be removed from their property,” he said.

Brittany Mellinger, who is director of the Housing Equality and Equity Institute based in Lancaster County, said once someone is evicted, it is even more difficult to get back in the housing system.

“We deal with so many households who are displaced and are unable to get additional housing because of credit issues, because of evictions on their history now, because of lack of steady employment,” said Mellinger, who also works with the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership.

She noted there will be long-term consequences for people if there is a gap between when the moratorium expires and a potential new declaration is put in place.

Landlord Rita Dallago, executive director for the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association, said they too must pay their bills — and evictions are a last resort.

“We have a responsibility to provide habitable housing. We must keep lights on, the water flowing, and the like,” she said. “When you’re not getting your rental income over the course of these past few months, many rental housing providers have had to make adjustments.”

In Dauphin County, over 14,000 eviction claims have been filed since September through loopholes in the CDC’s declaration, according to Caleb Cossick with Greater Harrisburg Tenants United.

He said if the moratorium expires, that number will be even higher.

Cossick hopes people will be able to work together to make sure landlords get paid and tenants do not lose their homes.

“The best-case scenario in my opinion is to enter the ‘Pay and Stay’ option, which gives the tenant the opportunity to pay the back rent and remain in the home, and gives the landlord the opportunity to utilize CARES rent relief,” he said.

The CARES Act is a $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress in March.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are negotiating what could be the second Coronavirus relief bill.

Cossick is calling on them to pass a stimulus package that includes more relief money for renters, and an extension of the moratorium.

Lawmakers have set a deadline for the legislation on Friday.

 

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