Emergency rental assistance is here for Philadelphia (5/11/2020)

Source: Al Dia
Byline: Nigel Thompson
Date: 5/11/2020

Even before Philadelphia was forced to confront COVID-19, rental assistance was on the radar of the city as one of its biggest needs.

But now that the city is in the thralls of a COVID-19 shutdown, Greg Heller, Senior Vice President of the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation’s Community Investment Fund, said it’s even more important to keep city residents in their homes amid major job loss.

“So many people who had low incomes to start, now are suffering from COVID-19-related loss of income, loss of jobs,” he said. “It’s just putting further stress and hardship on all of those low-income renters.”

Across the country, more than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the beginning of the pandemic in March. In Pennsylvania, it’s meant upwards of 1.7 million unemployment claims for one of the highest numbers of any state in the country.

The loss of income for more than a million Pennsylvanians over the last two months has meant many have been unable to make ends meet for basic necessities, including rent.

Since March, Pennsylvania has had in place a moratorium on evictions being carried out and filed. On May 7, PA Governor Tom Wolf extended that moratorium until July 10 through executive order, but reinforced that rents and mortgages would still be due at the end of the month.

A day later, on May 8, Philadelphia announced its COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program through PHDC.

The program, which renters can apply for online at PHLRentAssist.org, will provide up to $2,500 in rental assistance over a three-month period.

Heller said the funds for the program are being provided through Community Development Block Grants as part of the federal government’s CARES Act.

“The number we hope to be able to assist is 3,000,” said Heller.

But he hopes to be able to help more if more funds come into the program. The new website for it also has a donate tab for anyone with the means to further support the effort to help Philadelphians with rent.

The city will start accepting applications for the program on Tuesday, May 12 at 10 a.m. and end on Saturday, May 16 at 5 p.m.

The application is available in English and Spanish with a translate feature also able to show web pages in 14 additional languages.

To apply, applicants’ incomes before the pandemic must have been less than 50% of the median area income. That equates to $33,850 a year for single households and $63,800 for a household of eight.

Applicants must also have no outstanding rent due before April or be in the process of being evicted. They can also not be in public housing or already receiving some rental assistance from elsewhere.

Tenants must also provide a copy of their lease signed by the landlord, proof of income before the COVID-19 pandemic, and a valid ID to match the name on the lease.

After being accepted, the city will then contact the tenant’s landlord, who must agree to the payment plan, to not pursue eviction against the tenant during the period of city payments or for six months after they’re received, and to waive late fees for unpaid April or May rent.

When agreed to, the landlord can expect payments directly from the city.

Right now, the website application is the only way to access the program, but it is smartphone accessible. Heller said for those unable to access it through the web should call 311 for figuring out an alternative way to apply.