Kadiedra Brown-Moody lost work as a certified nursing assistant early in the pandemic, and when her job called her back in May, she couldn’t return because she didn’t have child care and feared catching the coronavirus.
The city’s rental assistance program helped Brown-Moody pay May, June, and July rent to keep her family, which includes her 5-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, in their Southwest Philadelphia rowhouse. But their landlord is asking for late fees, which the program does not allow landlords to do. She fears that her landlord soon will kick the family out, which also would violate program rules.
“It’s not like we asked for this to happen,” said Brown-Moody, 42. “I don’t think that nobody should have to be on the streets. ... Landlords should work with the tenants a little more, because they know the situation.”
One in five adults in Pennsylvania either missed July’s rent or mortgage payment or had slight or no confidence their household could make those payments on time in August, according to a Census Bureau survey last month.
Throughout Pennsylvania, thousands of evictions on hold because of the pandemic will proceed once the state’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures ends Monday. In Philadelphia, landlord-tenant court will start hearing rescheduled cases on Thursday, and landlords who have won eviction hearings and have court orders can begin removing tenants Sept. 8. Because thousands of eviction cases in Philadelphia had to be rescheduled, the court isn’t expected to hear new cases until late November.
Meanwhile, landlords, especially those managing just a few units, say they need a way to replace tenants with those who can pay rent, so they can cover expenses.
In response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement last Tuesday that he doesn’t have the authority to extend the moratorium, Democratic lawmakers in the House plan to introduce legislation that would extend the governor’s powers to ban evictions and foreclosures during disaster emergencies. Senate Democrats said they’re ready to vote to extend the moratorium outright.
A spokesperson for House Republicans said Wolf “is passing the buck to the legislature to once again bail him out of his poor prior planning.”
Since the early days of the pandemic, Wolf “has removed a financial burden from renters and put it on landlords who now cannot afford to pay their bills, including property taxes that go to fund local schools,” the spokesperson, Jason Gottesman, said in a statement.
State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D., Phila.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said she’s glad to work with any of her colleagues with alternative ideas that keep people housed.
“If we do not do something before the expiration of this moratorium, everything I have heard from constituents and people who work in this [space] is there is going to be a lot of trauma in our communities and among our families, and we have to do everything we can to prevent that,” she said. “Ensuring everybody has a roof over their head really has to be a top priority right now.”
A national moratorium on foreclosures and evictions on single-family mortgages backed by Fannie Mae also was set to expire Monday but will be extended through the end of the year, the mortgage financier announced last week.
The end of state and city eviction and foreclosure bans on Monday comes before Philadelphia has finished setting up the eviction diversion program City Council approved in June, said Councilmember Helen Gym. She called on state lawmakers to make more federal pandemic relief funds available for rental assistance to keep tenants in their homes and pay landlords, although many don’t want to participate because of the strings attached. On Friday, a federal judge denied a request from the Philadelphia landlords association HAPCO to block the diversion program and other renter protections City Council passed as part of the Emergency Housing Protection Act.
Normally, about 1,500 evictions are scheduled each month in Philadelphia. But Vikram Patel, a staff lawyer in the housing unit at Community Legal Services, said, “I think we’re going to be seeing an order of magnitude many times that next month.”
“We are seeing a lot of tenants who have lost their jobs because of COVID or lost hours because of COVID and have fallen behind on their rent because of that,” he said. Some still haven’t received their full unemployment compensation. As clients remain jobless, tenants who had been keeping up with rent payments have started to fall behind, Patel said.
Some households will begin to lose their housing as the school year starts remotely for students in the Philadelphia School District.
“There’s already a huge disruption for a student when their family is facing an eviction,” he said. “In this situation, they’re essentially also losing access to their school.”
Phyllis Chamberlain, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, said that in many cases, assistance meant for struggling renters hasn’t yet made its way to them. She said tenants are “worried and a bit scared.”
“It is a tragic situation what’s going to happen in Pennsylvania on Monday,” said Eric Dobson, deputy director of the Fair Share Housing Center, a low-income housing advocacy group in Cherry Hill. “This is what we’re trying to prevent in New Jersey.”
The Garden State’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium stays in place until two months after Gov. Phil Murphy declares an end to the public health emergency. Dobson and other housing advocates are pushing the New Jersey Senate to pass a bill that would give residents two years to make back rent or mortgage payments and cap those payments to a percentage of residents’ incomes after the moratorium ends. The bill also waives late fees and penalties and offers mortgage forbearance to landlords.
In an attempt to deal with the fallout from the end of the Pennsylvania moratorium and the plight of struggling renters and landlords, nonprofits in Chester County are starting an eviction prevention court pilot program modeled off similar programs in Philadelphia and Montgomery County to provide lawyers to low-income renters, educate and negotiate with landlords, and offer social services to tenants.
Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children and the United Way of Chester County will start the program in September at a district court in Downingtown that had the highest number of eviction filings in the county last year. In partnership with the Housing Authority of Chester County, the program also will help pay back rent.
Although Chester County is one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania, it has areas of poverty, and the cost of living can be burdensome. Close to half of the families that the Friends Association serves have an income, “but it’s just not enough to pay rent, to pay your utilities, to pay your groceries,” said Jennifer Lopez, the nonprofit’s executive director.
Brian Jackson, who owns and manages more than 20 units across Philadelphia and is a board member at the city’s landlords association HAPCO, said he has been able to work with his tenants and encourages landlords to communicate better with theirs. He said one man, a self-employed residential painter, owed about $10,000 before the pandemic took hold, and Jackson was ready to evict him. But the man was able to get unemployment assistance, and since May, he has paid down roughly $7,000 of his debt.
He said that he and his peers understand some people are struggling to pay their bills because of the pandemic, but that some renters who can afford to make at least partial payments are not paying.
“I think they know the rules. They know they can’t be evicted,” he said.
Jackson pointed out that not all landlords can delay their mortgage payments, and they have expenses, too.
“Is a landlord not supposed to collect rent?” he said. “Some people will literally go an entire year without their rental income. That’s pretty dramatic, depending on what those incomes are.”
One woman he talked to last week owns two properties in the city. She’s selling one because she hasn’t been able to collect rent since December and is considering selling the other because she’s not sure when an eviction case would make it to court.
“Both properties, she’s losing rent on,” Jackson said. “She’s retired. This dramatically affects her retirement.”