With hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians facing the threat of eviction and foreclosure at month’s end, Democrats in the state House and Senate offered what they say is a simple solution: Extending a moratorium on evictions for 60 days after the commonwealth’s current disaster declaration ends.
“We really must embrace those living on the margins with a significant amount of humanity and allow them to get back on their feet,” state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said during an online news conference on Monday, as he highlighted other factors that have made it harder for people to make ends meet.
The COVID-19 relief bill that President Donald Trump signed into law last month extends a federal eviction moratorium until Jan. 31, and it sets aside $25 billion in assistance to renters, according to CNBC. In November, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed the state’s third, 90-day disaster declaration.
Pennsylvania’s statewide evictions moratorium expired last September after Wolf declined to issue a new executive order extending it, the Capital-Star reported at the time.
The York County Democrat instead called on state lawmakers to enact more permanent assistance. The move was decried by majority Republicans, who had complained Wolf spent most of the pandemic sidestepping the Legislature as he enacted restrictions on businesses.
“It is past time for us to make a deliberate change in our thinking. The right to housing must be considered a basic human right,” state Sen.-elect Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, said Monday. “Without it, so many other rights … even the right to be recognized as a person … cannot be realized without it. Evictions and foreclosures disrupt families and perpetuate inter-generational trauma. Keeping people in their homes should be a baseline responsibility of government.”
Hughes and Saval were joined on the call by Reps. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, and Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, who, along with Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, are sponsoring a similar moratorium in the lower chamber.
“This isn’t just an urban issue, it’s happening in every corner of Pennsylvania,” Innamorato said. “If we allow these evictions to proceed, it will cause unspeakable pain for these families, especially families with small children. It is going to increase the spread of COVID-19 and it will result in more deaths.”
In December, Senate Democrats rolled out a $4 billion debt-funded COVID-19 relief plan that would, if approved, provide $100 million in housing assistance. Landlords also have complained that they’re struggling under the weight of unpaid rent.
Renters and landlords missed out on approximately $108 million of an available $175 million in relief money because the state made it too hard to access the money, the investigative news website Spotlight PA reported last month. That money was used to balance the state budget.