The Lead

Spying wave of evictions, House Dems call for Wolf to extend moratorium to year’s end

By: - July 7, 2020 3:25 pm

Democratic lawmakers from across Pennsylvania have asked Gov. Tom Wolf to give renters another five months without facing the threat of eviction.

The letter, written by Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, a progressive from Philadelphia, and signed by 43 of her House colleagues, was sent to Wolf Monday.

It calls for Wolf to extend his COVID-19 inspired moratorium on eviction and foreclosure until Dec. 31, 2020. It is set to expire on Friday, July 10.

“For months, we have encouraged people to stay home as much as possible,” the letter, acquired by the Capital-Star, says. “Our constituents need and deserve to have that roof over their head.”

Wolf initially enacted the order in early May to protect renters from eviction for lack of payment. Before that, evictions had been put off by the state Supreme Court’s judicial emergency as millions were thrown out of work because of the pandemic.

But Wolf’s order will end Friday, threatening thousands with homelessness across the state. Similar concerns are playing out across the country.

According to Princeton’s Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions in select cities, evictions in Pittsburgh fell from more than 1,000 a month in January and February to zero in April, the height of the pandemic.

There was a slight increase last month, as Wolf’s order allowed for old evictions over, for example, property damage, to begin again. The tracker recorded 56 such proceedings in Pittsburgh in June.

Altogether, the project counts 3.4 million renters in the Commonwealth.

“Without further action and supportive measures, Pennsylvania could see a surge of evictions soon after current orders expire,” it claims

The state government has made some moves to aid renters. Last month, the General Assembly approved spending $2.6 billion, or two-thirds, of Pennsylvania’s $3.9 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus dollars.

Of that, $150 million was set aside to aid individuals struggling to make rent; $25 million was set aside for homeowners who need to make mortgage payments.

The state’s housing finance authority only began accepting applications for the federal money Monday, according to WESA-FM in Pittsburgh. 

Applications are open until September 30. Eligible applicants must prove they’ve lost at least 30 percent of their usual income.

The rental aid caps at $4,500 over six months, from March to December — or $750 a month. According to the U.S. Census data, the median monthly rent in Pennsylvania is $915. 

In their letter, Fiedler and her fellow Democrats argued an extension would give Pennsylvanians “the time to apply for financial relief programs, to plan, to earn and save money,” as well as time for lawmakers to develop a plan to meet “the immense need of homeowners and renters across our state.”

Democratic lawmakers have already proposed tenant protections — such as a ban on late fees— amid the pandemic.

The Wolf administration is still reviewing whether to renew the order, according to a spokesperson.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.