The Legislature needs to step up to keep Pa. residents in their homes. Here’s how | Opinion

(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Elizabeth Fiedler and Maureen Madden

This is the feedback we receive as lawmakers and these are the voices of people from across our state:

“We’re on mortgage forbearance. We get a new bill each month showing the mounting debt they expect us to magically be able to pay.” – Couple who lost their jobs, Philadelphia

“There are people scared for their lives over losing their homes. This is unfair and unjust for everyone.” –  homeowner

“I’m using my savings to cover expenses for my rental property because my tenants can’t pay the rent.” –renter

“My son was laid off and he couldn’t get unemployment, so now he’s behind on his rent” –homeowner

“There’s no work and no money. I’m three months behind on the rent.” – renter

Pennsylvania faced a housing crisis long before COVID-19 arrived. The virus just tore away the façade and showed all of us the crumbling beams that people have been living with for years.

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The virus has led to catastrophic job losses and slowdowns, vital relief funding is stalled in a federal bureaucracy more beholden to special interests and the super-rich than struggling people, and our state sits with an expired moratorium on evictions and foreclosures because some leaders refuse to bring up home-saving legislation. Meanwhile, one in five renters and homeowners can’t make their payments.

Think about your street. Now think about every fifth home empty. Then every fourth. Then every third. We cannot and we will not stand by and watch tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians be pushed out of their homes. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have a package of legislation to keep people in their homes.  It’s time for state House leadership to bring up our bills to address these COVID-19 related housing challenges and more.

We have a plan to protect renters and homeowners who are facing mounting debt, we have a plan to improve the rent and mortgage relief program so it can help more people, and we have a plan to help small “mom and pop” landlords keep their home.

We know the federal government announced the extension of their moratorium, but there are a lot of loopholes Pennsylvania families could still fall through. These bills will provide needed relief after the federal extension expires – we want Pennsylvania to take care of our own.

Our “Safe at Home” package of bills puts people first.

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First and foremost, we’re extending the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to give people the breathing room they need, but that’s not all. Our package would:

  • increase funding to the PA Housing Finance Agency to provide more assistance to renters and homeowners, cut down on red tape for applicants and earmark a portion of the funding for smaller, in-state, “mom and pop” landlords;
  • allow tenants who fell behind on rent due to COVID-19-related job losses or slowdowns to set up payment plan options with landlords;
  • waive late fees on payments for tenants who fell behind due to COVID-19-related job losses or slowdowns;
  • create a landlord-tenant mediation program to solve problems before eviction proceedings begin;
  • ensure low-income renters and homeowners in debt have qualified legal representation;
  • seal the records of any and all “not for cause” evictions to ensure unfair eviction records don’t follow families;
  • waive all interest and costs associated with homeowners refinancing their loans during any declared disaster emergency,
  • and make sure small “mom and pop” landlords who own, manage and, in many cases, live in smaller rental properties get full access to the Home Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program;

The virus is still here and the housing crisis isn’t going away. The time for action is now.

Please, contact your local lawmaker and call on them to support our Safe at Home bill package to keep families in their homes.

State Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Maureen Madden, both Democrats, respectively represent the Philadelphia-based 184th House District and the Monroe County-based 115th House District. They write from Harrisburg.