The largest landlord association in Philadelphia and a housing and social services nonprofit are partnering to get rental assistance for tenants and prevent evictions as the city contemplates the end of pandemic lockout bans.
Hapco Philadelphia landlords will refer tenants who are struggling with rent payments to the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network before filing for eviction. The nonprofit will help tenants create a financial plan and access rental assistance. Distributing rental assistance and preventing evictions benefits both tenants and landlords. Leaders representing both groups signed a written agreement Thursday morning.
Landlords and tenants are typically perceived as adversaries whose interests do not align, especially during the pandemic, but this initiative is an example of how they can work together, said State Rep. Jared Solomon (D., Philadelphia), who helped facilitate what he called “a historic partnership.”
“Today’s a really good day in the Northeast, and it’s a good day for our city,” said Solomon, who represents Northeast Philadelphia. “I hope this is one of many opportunities where we can bring these folks together to address the housing crisis in our city and state.”
As eviction bans end, tenants will face a historic number of lockouts while landlords — especially those with only a few units — need tenants to stay in their properties and supply their income, Solomon said.
“We need these partnerships everywhere in the Northeast and everywhere in the city,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s federal eviction ban and Philadelphia Municipal Court’s citywide ban both end at the end of June. Philadelphia plans to distribute about $97 million in federal funds for rental and utility assistance in its latest phase of its COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
“When I got a call from the people at [the nonprofit], right away I knew this was a great beginning for Hapco to work not only with this group but with other housing providers,” said Greg Wertman, president of Hapco Philadelphia, which represents many of the city’s small and midsize landlords.
He said the nonprofit’s sustained interaction with tenants will be key to this agreement and “what is going to set a precedent for other groups that do this.”
As part of the agreement, Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, which serves clients throughout the city and runs a shelter, will help tenants with security deposits and provide resources and mediation with landlords as necessary for a year. Hapco Philadelphia members will make one to three market-rate units available to tenants with rent barriers who are referred by the nonprofit. The association estimates it represents about 25,000 rental units throughout the city.
The nonprofit has been “inundated” with cases of people seeking services during the pandemic, said Anita Lyndaker-Studer, Northeast coordinator at Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, an affiliate of the New Jersey-based Family Promise national nonprofit. Partnering with landlords “is one of the best ways ... that we can think of” to keep people in homes they can afford.
Housing advocates have been working to prevent a flood of evictions among tenants who have been struggling financially during the pandemic. Last year, City Council passed a package of bills implementing new protections for tenants, including the creation of the city’s Eviction Diversion Program, which requires landlords to go to mediation with tenants before filing for evictions.
As City Council and the mayor consider next year’s budget, advocates are calling for them to fund an expansion of the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project that provides services to tenants facing lockouts — the proposed budget cuts funding by almost half — and to fund the pilot of the Right to Counsel program that would provide free legal representation to income-eligible tenants facing eviction.
Aliya T. Vance, a social worker and case manager for the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network’s Northeast office, said the partnership with Hapco Philadelphia is necessary to help alleviate barriers tenants face to finding housing they can afford. She said she hopes other landlords are willing to work with her organization and others to create mutually beneficial partnerships.
Jim Sims, a member of Hapco Philadelphia, said that sense of partnership “is something that’s been lacking in Philadelphia during my tenure of 30 years as a landlord.”
“During my time, I’ve participated [in programs] with nonprofits, government agencies, all designed to try to help the tenant succeed,” he said. “And it all failed.”
The key to this agreement is a rejection of a one-size-fits-all program that doesn’t address people’s individual needs, he said.
“This is the first time that I’m seeing something where I am excited in knowing that I can actually communicate with someone and tell ’em specific needs and challenges of my tenants,” he said. “My tenants will actually have a place where they can speak and address their needs and get the help that they actually need to succeed.”
The 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.