Pa. is facing a wave of evictions. Two state House lawmakers have a plan to help | Tuesday Morning Coffee

(Getty Images photo)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

As Gov. Tom Wolf did battle with the Republican-controlled General Assembly last week over a vote to end his COVID-19 emergency declaration, the Democratic governor argued that lifting it would end an administration-imposed moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, now set to expire on July 10.

Assuming that two state courts agree with Wolf, and allow the order to remain in place, that date is uncomfortably near for thousands of renters and homeowners. And less discussed is what will happen when the moratorium ends.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported, landlords and tenants alike are looking for assistance to deal with the looming crisis. Pennsylvania has set aside $150 million in a piece of budget-enabling legislation known as the Fiscal Code that provides assistance to renters, the Inquirer reports. Tenants and landlords seeking funds on their behalf have until Sept. 30 to apply, the newspaper reported. And some landlords are moving on their own to waive fees and put off rent increases.

Still, two Democratic lawmakers want to go further to make sure renters are protected.

(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

On Monday, Democratic Reps. Maureen Madden, of Monroe County, and Mike Schlossberg, of Lehigh County, began seeking support for a three-pronged plan to help renters avoid eviction.

“Being evicted from a home is traumatizing for tenants and overwhelmingly costly to landlords, especially during a global pandemic when everyone’s safety is threatened,” Madden and Schlossberg wrote in a memo to their colleagues. “We must ensure that all Pennsylvania residents are equipped to continue battling this pandemic, future pandemics, and all declarations of emergency to come.

As it’s currently envisioned, the lawmakers’ “Tenant Eviction Mitigation Program,” would:

  • “require landlords to create a payment plan option for tenants that may have lost income due to a statewide emergency like COVID-19;
  • “prohibit landlords from charging late fees on rent payments to tenants with lost income during a statewide emergency; and
  • “create a landlord-tenant mediation and counseling program to help resolve issues before an eviction is required.”

“Among all the hardships Pennsylvanians are facing across the state due to COVID-19, the fear of possibly losing their home is one of the most prominent,” the two lawmakers wrote. “While our constituents are undergoing record levels of unemployment and hour reduction, they now have to face the grueling reality of paying rent. While we work hard to protect our essential workers and our most at risk individuals, it is our duty to also ensure that they can stay safe and secure in their own homes.”

(Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition)

If you don’t think the danger facing renters in the midst of the pandemic is real, the Associated Press reported Sunday that some landlords have resorted to threats and harassment to force out some tenants.

From the AP:

“The data and analytics real estate firm Amherst projects that 28 million renters, or about 22.5% of all households, are at risk of eviction. Tenant advocates expect that number to increase significantly unless protections are put in place, and project that many of those affected will be African Americans and households led by women, both of which historically are more likely to be evicted.

“In a sign of what could happen nationally, Virginia has seen a crush of proceedings since eviction hearings resumed May 18. About 700 cases already have been heard statewide, according to Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy for the Virginia Poverty Law Center. On top of that, 2,200 cases are on the docket for the end of June and early July in Richmond, which has one of the country’s highest eviction rates.

Rachel Garland, an attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, said her group has experienced a spike in calls from tenants who lost their jobs due to the lockdown and fear being evicted. Philadelphia had the fourth-highest eviction rate in the country.

“’Even if they can’t be evicted right now, if the courts are closed, the landlords are sending threatening emails, text messages, asking for rent, threatening to lock tenants out,’ Garland said.”

Meanwhile, the fiscal picture for state and local governments is expected to further darken, meaning that they won’t be able to provide rental assistance without a serious assist from Washington.

From Stateline.org:

“In May, the Democratic-led House passed a COVID-19 relief bill that many housing advocates and landlords supported. Its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is uncertain.

“And though the Congressional Budget Office predicts that need will lessen as the economy improves, the coalition reported, the price tag still could be as high as $7 billion a month a year from now.

Cities and states don’t have it.

“According to a new report by the National League of Cities, city revenue will decline by 22% or $134 billion compared with last year.

“State revenue will decline from 9% in Connecticut to 40% in Pennsylvania, the report found.

“’It’s quite desperate out there,’” said James Brooks, the group’s director of housing and community development.'” 

Schlossberg and Madden say they’re hoping for the best with their proposal.

“In the aftermath of the Great Recession, several counties in PA—including Lehigh County, took steps to create a mortgage mitigation program,” Schlossberg said in a statement released Monday. “Courts took steps to protect endangered homeowners and helped to keep people in their homes. This legislation takes a similar approach to protect tenants and also helps landlords work toward a process for securing past-due rents. These are terribly difficult times and the more we can do help landlords and tenants navigate this process, the better we will all be.”

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced a parcel of police reform bills on Monday morning, positioning them for a vote by the full House as early as next weekStephen Caruso reports. Later in the day, Gov. Tom Wolf rejected the idea of a special session, saying the bills were there now, he was ready to sign them, so they should just pass them:

Advocates for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians hailed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling concluding that employers can’t legally fire people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, Elizabeth Hardison and Capital-Star Washington Reporter Allison Stevens have the details.

The state Health Department has opened 10 more COVID-19 testing sites, in Walmart parking lots, across the state, Cassie Miller reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a Rutgers University researcher explains why a prison term, regardless of its length, ends up being a life sentence for too many Americans. And veteran education activist Lawrence Feinberg says it’s past time for the Legislature to fix cyber-charter school funding.

Love Park in Philadelphia (Photo via Flickr Commons)

Elsewhere.
The Black Lives Matter protests in Philadelphia so far have not led to a spike in coronavirus infections, the Inquirer reports.
Protesters in Pittsburgh are looking for answers in the death of trans activist Aaliyah JohnsonPittsburgh City Paper reports.
Officials at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission are defending the agency’s decision to lay off 500 toll-takers, despite a contract that runs through 2022, PennLive reports.
Allentown’s iconic Ritz Barbecue has closed down, a victim of the COVID-19 economy, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s office has asked the city’s Arts Commission to “consider the future” of a Columbus statue in South Philadelphia that’s been the site of heated clashes. WHYY-FM has the story.
An Erie police officer who kicked an unarmed, seated protester has been suspended for three days, the PA Post reports.
NY Mag’s Intelligencer looks at the Supreme Court’s intersectionality with Monday’s landmark ruling on LGBTQ rights.

What Goes On.
Time TBA:
 Daily Wolf/Levine briefing.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to longtime reader and Bridgeport, Pa. Borough Councilor Tony Heyl, who celebrated on Monday. Congratulations go out this morning to Morning Call data guy Gene Tauber who celebrates today. Congrats, gents.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a song that just sounds like summer to us. It’s a deep cut — and a comparable oldie. From 2006, it’s singer-songwriter Bob Sinclair and Love Generation.”

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
ESPN’s Buster Olney 
explains how ‘short-sighted greed’ is ripping Major League Baseball apart as the 2020 season slips away.

And now you’re up to date.