If you need rent relief because of the coronavirus pandemic, you can now can apply for assistance through a program from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency that began accepting applications this week.
The PHFA’s CARES Rent Relief Program will provide $150 million worth of rental assistance to qualified tenants, and you can apply until Sept. 30. The program is part of a $2.6 billion spending plan that state lawmakers approved in late May, with funding coming from Pennsylvania’s portion of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
“Many people, through no fault of their own, are finding themselves and their families in jeopardy of losing their housing,” Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said in a statement last week. “In addition to the immeasurable stress this instability places on people at a time when so much is uncertain, we cannot rebuild a strong economy while people are in danger of being homeless.”
But who qualifies for the rent relief program, and how can you apply for assistance? Here is what you need to know:
Am I eligible for rent assistance?
If you are applying for rent relief through the PHFA’s program, you must have become unemployed after March 1 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Those who can demonstrate a drop in their annual income of at least 30% due to the pandemic can also qualify.
In addition, your income cannot be higher than the median income for the county in which you live, which changes based on the number of people in your household. For example, in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, that amount is $96,600 for a family of four, or $67,700 if you live alone.
Assistance is given out on a first-come, first-served basis for qualified tenants. Applications close on Sept. 30. If you have questions about the program and your eligibility, you can reach the PHFA at 855-827-3466 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
How much rent assistance can I get?
If you qualify, you can get up to $750 a month in relief for a maximum of six months for rent due between March 1 and Nov. 30, up to $4,500 in assistance. The money goes directly to landlords, not to renters.
How do I apply for the program?
If you are eligible, there are three applications that must be filled out and mailed to a local county organization to be processed. The PHFA provides a list of county organizations to which you can send your application, with Philadelphia’s being the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation.
Tenants must fill out a document called the “Lessee Household Certification-Renter Application,” which includes information such as loss of income or unemployment documentation, your lease agreement, and rental costs. The application also asks for third-party documentation, such as a pay stub or ID, to verify your residency.
Landlords must also be involved in the process, and need to complete a “Landlord Application” and a “Landlord-Property Certification.” Those documents ask landlords to provide ownership documentation for their properties, as well as verify that their units meet certain housing quality standards, like having working hot and cold running water.
Can I be evicted right now?
Pennsylvania’s statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures will expire Friday, July 10. Gov. Tom Wolf said that he hasn’t yet made a decision on extending the moratorium.
If the moratorium does expire, it would apply to suburban counties, but not Philadelphia. Last week, Mayor Jim Kenney signed a package of bills that extends the city’s moratorium on evictions through Aug. 31. Philadelphia’s landlord-tenant court, which was expected to reopen to begin processing pre-pandemic cases on Monday, will stay closed to nonemergency business until Sept. 2.
But if Pennsylvania’s moratorium does expire on Friday, there will be a tight deadline for applications and checks from the rent assistance program to be processed to prevent some eviction proceedings.
“I just don’t see how it’s possible that people who need the rental assistance to avoid eviction will receive it in time,” Phyllis Chamberlain, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, told The Inquirer last week. “That is a huge problem.”
I’m a homeowner. Can I get mortgage assistance?
The Pandemic Mortgage Assistance Program, another initiative from the PHFA, will provide $25 million worth of help to qualified homeowners. Applicants can apply until Sept. 30.
Homeowners who are eligible can get up to $1,000 a month in assistance for up to six months for mortgage payments owed between March and December. Just like the rent program, the money goes straight to the mortgage lenders, not to the homeowner.
To qualify, you must have become unemployed after March 1 as a result of the pandemic, or experienced a loss of income of at least 30% related to COVID-19. You must also live in your home, and your mortgage must be at least 30 days past due, among other qualifications.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.