Having trouble paying your rent? You could get some much-needed financial assistance, thanks to a new program from the city.
It’s called the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and it’s supposed to help up to 3,000 families throughout Philadelphia. If you’re selected, you will receive up to $2,500 in rent help over a three-month period. After three months, you can get reevaluated, and the help could continue for as long as one year. The money comes from the federal CARES Act.
“Unprecedented job losses have placed financial pressure on both renters and landlords,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “Keeping people in their homes is critical during this crisis.”
However, not everyone is eligible, and there are some important things to know when applying.
To apply, you need to be a renter with an apartment or house in Philadelphia, have a current lease (in writing), and have lost income because of the coronavirus pandemic. You don’t need to have gotten sick or diagnosed with the coronavirus.
The program is designed to help lower-income people. To qualify, your household earnings need to be less than half of the area’s median income before the coronavirus pandemic. If there are four people in your house, for example, the maximum your household could have made last year is $48,300 — and that number goes up for each additional person in your household. Not sure if you qualify? Check the city’s income eligibility chart.
There are other limits. You don’t qualify if you live in public housing, get other rental assistance from the government, have unpaid rent from before April, or are in the process of eviction, according to the city.
The city is accepting applications from Tuesday, May 12, until Saturday, May 16, at 5 p.m. To apply, you must complete an online application, a Housing Condition Survey, and a document that confirms you have lost income because of the coronavirus pandemic.
You will also need to submit a copy of your current lease that your landlord has signed, proof of lost income for each adult in the household, and identification matching your name on your lease. If you don’t have internet access, you can call 311.
In order to get help, the city says that your landlord has to have a rental license and be up to date on city taxes. If your landlord doesn’t meet these requirements, the city will give them one week to fix any problems.
There are also a few other things to which landlords have to agree. They must agree to waive any late fees for unpaid rent from April and May, not evict you while you’re in this program (and for six months after), and give you six months after the program ends to pay back any rent you owed from April.
If you want to help, you can donate money to the city’s program online. “Every dollar into the program goes to pay rent” because the city covers other operating costs. And donations are tax-deductible.
If you can’t pay your rent, you should get in touch with your landlord immediately to explain the situation, and try to work out accommodations for payment. Kadeem Morris, a lawyer with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia’s housing unit, said that solutions include payment plans, getting your late fee waived, or paying what you can now. If you live in federally subsidized housing, you may be able to ask for a rent recalculation by contacting the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
But there are also other rent assistance programs and funds out there. PhillyTenant.org, which is run by several groups including CLS, recommends contacting organizations such as the Office of Homeless Services (215-686-7177), or the Utility Emergency Services Fund (215-972-5170).
Evictions and foreclosures are on hold in Pennsylvania until at least July 10 because of an executive order signed by Gov. Tom Wolf. Wolf announced the decision alongside Attorney General Josh Shapiro, saying that “it’s much easier to wash your hands if you have a sink.” Evictions in Philadelphia, meanwhile, are on hold through May 31.
The CARES Act protects people living in federally subsidized housing from eviction until July 25. And if your landlord has a federally backed mortgage, you are also protected until that date. That applies to about 40% of renters.
If you are locked out of your home during this period, Morris said, you should call the police. If you’re facing eviction, he added, contact the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project tenant hotline for guidance at 267-443-2500. More information is available via PhillyTenant.org.