Row houses in Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Naiser Warren-Robinson
PHILADELPHIA — City Council has passed an order extending parts of Philadelphia’s eviction diversion program that will extend the requirement that landlords participate in it for at least 30 days before deciding to take legal action against renters.
This city housing initiative created during the pandemic has garnered national acclaim for its effectiveness in mediating relationships between landlords and tenants outside of court.
The program was created in September 2020 as a part of the emergency housing protection act in order to improve relationships between landlords and tenants and to help settle their differences without having to take legal action in court. The program will be extended through the middle of 2024.
In the program, tenants are connected with city-funded housing counselors who meet with them to assess the situation. The counselors then attend mediation sessions between the tenant and landlord to help advocate on behalf of the tenant.
Advocates for the program say that this ordinance will go a long way towards helping residents remain in their homes for the foreseeable future.
Vikram Patel, a supervising attorney in the housing unit of Community Legal Services, described the program as “an enormous success” in helping thousands of landlords and tenants come to peaceful solutions without the need to go to court.
According to Patel, the program has ensured that residents have access to safe and affordable housing by limiting the need for disputes to be taken to court.
“When a tenant has a filing in court, regardless of what happens, even if the tenant wins in court, that (filing) follows them around for the rest of their life making it harder to access safe and affordable housing in the future,” Patel said. “This program doesn’t just keep people housed right now, it allows people access to safe and affordable housing in the future.”
Andre Del Valle, vice president of the Pennsylvania Apartment Association, also endorsed the program, thanking city officials and other stakeholders for their collaboration in “continuing to improve this program to help landlords recoup outstanding balances while preventing housing insecurity in the city of Philadelphia.”
“This commitment will ensure that the Pennsylvania Apartment Association, tending advocates, and other appropriate stakeholders can continue to work together in a productive manner that finds equilibrium for both landlords and tenants,” Del Valle said.
City Councilmember Helen Gym also spoke in support of this program prior to the vote being taken.
“Our city has so often been the focus of so many problems, so much pain, and so much grief,” Gym said. “When our city faces so many problems, we can also be the focus for the greatest solutions.”
“This program was borne out of crisis, but out of it we came up with something that will stabilize … and lead to a more prosperous … and safe city for everybody.”
Naiser Warren-Robinson is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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