Days before a federal eviction moratorium was scheduled to expire, city and state officials assembled at City Hall late last month to urge Philadelphians struggling to pay rent and utilities to apply for help.
But by then, tens of thousands of city residents had already submitted applications for the latest phase of Philadelphia’s rental assistance program, which began April 1. Many of them were still desperate to know whether they would get the help they needed to stay in their homes.
The city has received more than 45,000 applications as of Friday. That’s more than twice the maximum number of renters the city expects to be able to help with this round of funding. And tenants are still applying.
About 9,100 households have received funds, and an additional 1,000-plus have been approved. That leaves about 9,800 more households — at most — that the city can help.
More than 20,000 applications are pending review. Some renters who applied in the spring are still waiting for a decision.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention replaced its eviction ban that expired July 31 with a new eviction moratorium that runs through Oct. 3 for counties such as Philadelphia that are seeing significant spread of the coronavirus. The ban is aimed at keeping tenants in their homes while they wait for rental assistance as the region and the nation contend with the economic fallout of the coronavirus.
The occupants of more than 300 households that have pending rental assistance applications and aren’t protected by the eviction ban are scheduled to be locked out of their homes in the coming weeks, according to City Councilmember Helen Gym.
States have yet to distribute most of the roughly $47 billion approved to help the nation’s renters and landlords. So far, Philadelphia has distributed more than $70 million in rent and utility assistance of the $127.5 million it received in this round of funding.
“Landlords were asked to take one for the team and bite the bullet and leave [tenants] in [properties]. We were told we would be compensated, and we are not,” said Greg Wertman, president of Hapco Philadelphia, the city’s largest landlord association. “This whole thing is about tenants and landlords. It’s about both.
“Both are getting denied what the federal government said they would do for them. They’re not following through.”
Federal guidelines say the city should prioritize tenants who earn 50% or less of area median income — or $33,100 for a single person and $47,250 for a household of four — or who were unemployed for more than 90 days.
According to the city, about 3% of applications have been denied because applicants are ineligible, mostly because the renters earn more than the limit of 80% of area median income — $52,950 for a single person and $75,600 for a household of four.
Workers are reviewing about 3,500 applications a week, according to the city. At that pace, the city would be done with the current load of applications about two weeks before the moratorium ends. But that doesn’t account for the more than 37% of applications that are being marked incomplete and require re-submission for further review.
Rachel Garland, managing attorney of the housing unit at Community Legal Services, said she appreciates that the city is processing applications as quickly as possible. She said timely distribution of the “unprecedented funds” is crucial.
The vast majority of disputes between landlords and tenants are over nonpayment of rent, especially now that many people have lost income during the pandemic.
“These cases do not need to go to court,” Garland said.
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.