COVID-19 in Philly: New city program provides rental assistance

(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — A new city program seeks to help 3,000 families experiencing financial difficulties stay in their homes.

The COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program will make rent payments for people who have lost income because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know that there were lots of Philadelphians who were having trouble paying the rent before the pandemic, so we wanted to make sure that we were able to get money out there so soon as possible to help,” said Greg Heller, senior vice president of PHDC’s Community Investment Group, who is administering the program.

The city started accepting applications on Monday. The application period closes Saturday.

“The reason for that short timeline is we are expecting a lot of demand for this program and we want to able to close it and put the money out on the street as fast as we can,” Heller said.

Selected tenants will receive rent assistance for up to three consecutive months for up to $2,500 total. It is possible that assistance may be extended for additional months if funding permits and the renter still qualifies.

To be eligible, renters must rent an apartment or house in Philadelphia; have a valid and current written lease signed by their landlord and have lost income because of COVID-19. Assistance is limited to renters whose households earn 50% or less of the area median income.

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Renters are not eligible if they live in public housing, receive other governmental rental assistance such as Section 8, have unpaid rent before April, or are in the process of being evicted.

To apply, renters will have to submit an online application, housing condition survey and an affidavit confirming loss due to COVID-19.

For the renters to participate, their landlords must meet certain qualifications. They must have a rental license and be current in city taxes.

If necessary, landlords will be given one week to resolve these issues with the City. Landlords must not pursue eviction for non-payment while receiving rental assistance from the City or for six months after the final City payment. They must provide six months after the final payment from the City to repay any missed rent from April and any unpaid rent from the period while the tenant is receiving assistance from the City.

Marlynn Orlando, executive director of the Pennsylvania Apartment Association says many of its members have been finding ways to work with their tenants during the pandemic.

“All they ask is that the tenants be open with them, open the communication lines and explain what’s going on so that the owners can work out flexibility wherever they can and I think where folks are being honest and doing that, our owners are being transparent and working with them on their situations,” she said.

“I think a program like this obviously helps fill that gap for those that are finding themselves in financial difficulties because of the COVID pandemic emergency.”

Applications for the new program are available through PHLRentAssist.org. Residents without internet access or a smartphone can get program and application information by calling 3-1-1.

The program is funded with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds provided under the federal CARES Act. Enough funding is available to serve at least 3,000 households for three consecutive months.

Individuals and corporations are able to make tax-deductible donations to the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program at PHLRentAssist.org.

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.