Wolf extends temporary eviction ban until Aug. 31

    Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to medical professionals and the press at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center on Wednesday, June 24. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

    (*This story was updated at 3:42 p.m., on 7/9/20 with additional comment)

    After a week of pressure from advocates and lawmakers, Gov. Tom Wolf has extended a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until August 31.

    The order, issued in early May, was originally set to expire Friday, July 10. It will only prevent an individual from being kicked out of their home for non-payment or overstaying their lease.

    “I am taking this action to help families know they will have a roof over their heads and a place to live while all of us fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wolf said in a statement. “It takes one more burden off of people who are struggling and ensures that families can remain in their homes so they can protect their health and wellbeing.”

    Without the extension, advocates warned of a wave of evictions amid the pandemic.

    According to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, there are 3.4 million renters in Pennsylvania. The median rent, according to federal census data, is $915 a month.

    Evictions due to property damage or other violations, may continue, and have in some cases.

    Eviction Lab, which tracks court proceedings in a limited number of cities, found 61 eviction filings in Pittsburgh last month.

    The state did approve $175 million in housing assistance out of federal stimulus dollars last month — $150 million for renters, $25 million for homeowners.

    But applications for those dollars only opened this Monday. In an email, Megan Confer-Hammond, interim executive director of the The Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh, said the tight timeline could lead to “an unnecessary risk to the public health of us all.”

    “Evicting tenants who have lost their income due to the pandemic and who are diligently pursuing the rental assistance being made available is unconscionable,” Confer-Hammond said in an email.

    Wolf’s order closely matches an eviction moratorium recently passed by the Philadelphia City Council, which also banned evictions until Aug. 31. Local landlords are challenging that law in court.

    COVID-19 does not appear to be going away anytime soon. Cases have been rising again in Pennsylvania over the last weeks, and new cases hit a new high nationwide Wednesday.

    With viral, and this economic, uncertainty still on the horizon, Pennsylvania must do more than put off rent payments, said Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia. She co-authored a letter to Wolf earlier this week asking for an extension.

    The letter asked for the moratorium to run until year’s end. 

    Calling eviction and foreclosures “traumatic,” Fiedler said she was “very very glad” for Wolf’s actions. 

    But with everyone, workers and landlords alike, struggling to pay bills, Fiedler said the state needed to do more to aid the millions of Pennsylvanians collecting unemployment, some of whom have yet to see a single check.

    “We know the pandemic is going to continue to be with us in the fall,” she said. “We need to continue to take steps to prepare for that.”

    The temporary halt to evictions, agreed Make the Road PA, a statewide Latino advocacy group “is important and welcome. But “allowing evictions before Pennsylvanians are back on their feet will only delay the avalanche of evictions, homelessness, and even illness and death that will follow,” said organizer Patty Torres.

    New programs could be a tough ask without new revenue. Pennsylvania likely faces a multi-billion dollar budget deficit when lawmakers must finish the state’s 2020 budget in November.

    The commonwealth also has about $1 billion in federal stimulus funding left unspent.