New Philly program offers emergency aid to renters, homeowners

State Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — Emergency aid is available to help people who are struggling financially and facing eviction and foreclosures due to the pandemic.

Money for the program comes from $175 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding. About $125 million of the funding is reserved to help renters and $25 million is being allocated for mortgage assistance.

State Sens. Art Haywood and Vincent Hughes, both Philadelphia Democrats, advocated for funding for the program, which seeks to help people financially impacted by the pandemic.

“We know that rental assistance is needed across the commonwealth, we know that mortgage assistance is needed across the commonwealth,” Haywood said during a news conference. “We know that this is a statewide challenge that we hope we can meet in part with these resources.”

The funding comes as Gov. Tom Wolf’s order preventing evictions and foreclosures across the state is set to expire next week.

Hughes said that the eviction moratorium does not necessarily have to end on July 10, given that there is an uptick of the coronavirus across the country and in Pennsylvania.

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“It’s not in anybody’s interest to begin an eviction or foreclosure process while you have $175 million available to help people,” he said.

“We’re still in a global pandemic and we see growth in the virus. Putting people out on the street is not necessarily the best thing to do in that environment. I anticipate you’ll hear some more public action from our caucus within the very near future on this. I’m hoping the best senses of everyone will prevail and not go down a path of evictions and foreclosure.

Applications for the new program will be accepted starting July 6 through Sept. 30.

County-level organizations across the state will process applications for renters. Robin Wiessmann, executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Finance Agency, said a system is in place to process applications “expeditiously.”

The state agency will handle applications from mortgage holders.

Renters who qualify for the program can receive up to $750 in monthly rent payments for a maximum of six months. Qualified homeowners can receive up to $1,000 for mortgage payments for up to six months. The assistance payments will be made to rental property owners and mortgage lenders.

The program is eligible to residents who meet the income guidelines and have lost their job or have seen their income decrease by 30% because of the pandemic.

More than 2.4 million Pennsylvanians have filed jobless claims since mid-March, when governmental officials ordered the closure of most businesses across the state in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“We know first hand that people are in need and we do hear from people that are very concerned about losing their houses or their rental space,” Wiessmann said.

Rachel Garland, managing attorney of the Community Legal Services housing, said this is the nation’s worse recession since the 1930s.

“So while these programs will be extremely helpful from a financial perspective, we also know that unfortunately they will not be enough and that’s why protections that provide time and support to tenants as they stabilize their housing is going to be critical right now,” she said.

Applications are available at phfa.org/pacares.

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