Philly’s program that prevents evictions will continue through 2022
Philadelphia's Eviction Diversion Program has prevented eviction filings and received national recognition as a model for other cities.
Philadelphia’s nationally recognized program to prevent evictions is set to continue for another year after City Council unanimously voted Thursday to extend it.
The Eviction Diversion Program’s requirement that landlords go to mediation with tenants and apply for rental assistance at least 45 days before filing in court for eviction was set to expire Dec. 31. That’s when a Pennsylvania Supreme Court order granting the Philadelphia Municipal Court authority to extend the program ends.
The Council bill, which Mayor Jim Kenney plans to sign, continues the program through Dec. 31, 2022, as long as the city has enough rental assistance available. Philadelphia has asked for $485 million in additional federal funds. The city would adapt the program if adequate funds do not arrive.
New Jersey stopped accepting new applications for its Eviction Prevention Program on Wednesday because applications will exceed funding.
Almost half of Philadelphians are renters, and renters are more likely than homeowners to work in industries the pandemic hit hardest. The city launched the program in September to help landlords and tenants who had lost income because of the pandemic. The federal government has cited the program as a model for other cities.
The diversion program has helped landlord-tenant court to get through backlogged cases, landlords to receive rental income and get court hearings faster if they are necessary, and tenants to connect with resources and avoid eviction filings, according to city and court officials. Having a past eviction filing hurts tenants’ chances of finding new housing, even if they won the case or it was withdrawn.
In more than 90% of the nearly 2,500 cases in the program, landlords and tenants have either reached an agreement or agreed to keep negotiating, officials said. The data show that many of these cases do not belong in court, especially disputes over small amounts of money that can be resolved with payment plans, said Abraham Reyes Pardo, director of housing at the Urban League of Philadelphia, which is a partner in the program.
He said the initiative also has allowed housing counselors to address violations of the Fair Housing Act by property owners that otherwise would have gone unreported by fearful tenants.
“To say that the coalition of agencies led by the city has made this a very successful program would be an understatement,” he said.
City officials also say the Eviction Diversion Program has been key to Philadelphia being able to distribute more than $240 million in rental assistance.
Patrick Dugan, president judge of Philadelphia Municipal Court, has cited the successes of the program and had asked the state Supreme Court to authorize his court to operate the program through February, but the high court declined to do so.
Vik Patel, a supervising attorney in the housing unit at Community Legal Services, said the reduction in eviction filings “has enabled households most at risk to maintain some sense of stability in these very unstable times.”
The legislation Council passed Thursday requires periodic evaluation of the program to determine how it is working for all parties.