Gov. Wolf urges legislature to protect homeowners and renters from eviction

Regional News

(Photo: PA Governor’s Office)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) — Governor Tom Wolf advocates urging the legislature to quickly pass legislation to protect Pennsylvanians from eviction from their homes and fix a state program, so it helps more homeowners and renters as intended.

Since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court eviction moratorium expired in May, the governor has signed executive orders on May 7 and July 9 that protected Pennsylvanians from foreclosures and evictions. The recent order expired Aug. 31 and the state’s Emergency Services Code does not allow the governor to provide further relief related to temporary housing.

“Pennsylvanians shouldn’t lose their homes or have to worry about a place to live because of the financial hardships caused by COVID-19,” said Governor Wolf. “Pennsylvanians are making sacrifices to fight this pandemic, but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them. I’ve paused evictions for nearly four months, but now we need legislation. I urge the General Assembly to immediately pass a moratorium on evictions and fix flaws in a rent relief program so more people can get the help they need.”

The governor is also urging the General Assembly to fix defects in Act 24 of 2020, which provides $175 million in rent and mortgage relief using CARES Act funds. The program, administered by the PHFA, has a cumbersome application process and is helping fewer people than expected.

The governor called for changes to help renters:

  • Raise the $750 monthly cap on rent relief to at least 130% of HUD limits – In some parts of the state rent payments exceed $750 a month, therefore landlords decline to participate, leaving tenants without payment assistance.
  • Eliminate the requirement that households be 30 days behind on rent to be eligible for assistance – The requirement creates an unfair burden on applicants who prioritize rent and mortgage payments over paying for food, medicine or other bills.
  • Eliminate verification that applicants applied for unemployment compensation – The added administrative step creates unnecessary processing delays of applications and availability of assistance.
  • Provide landlords and mortgagees the option to forgive the remaining unpaid rent or mortgage payments or allow the balance to be repaid over one year – Offering property owners to recoup balance of payments should encourage participation in the program.

“In the first two months of managing the relief programs for renters and homeowners, we’ve learned things that can make the programs work better and get assistance out to more people,” said PHFA Executive Director and CEO Robin Wiessmann. “Making these changes, and extending the application deadline, should help us assist considerably more people and, most importantly, prevent them from becoming homeless.”

The governor sent letters to the House and Senate last week outlining the recommendations.

“No one should worry about losing the roof over their head at the same time they’re worried about contracting a highly contagious, deadly virus,” said Senator Jay Costa. “It’s our job to keep families safe, not stand idly by as they’re made homeless in droves. I call on the Senate Republicans to call us back into session immediately to extend the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.”

To further help renters, the governor is proposing an additional $100 million for the Rent Relief Program to provide more financial assistance on behalf of low- to moderate-income renters having trouble making rent payments as a result of the pandemic. Assistance would remain as grants with funds paid directly to landlords or property owners.

In response, Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus Spokesperson Jason Gottesman, made the following comment:

“Gov. Wolf has ignored the law and acted by fiat for the last six months. It is curious now that he is searching for the limits of his authority as an excuse to pass the buck to the General Assembly over the crisis he created for both property owners and renters.

“Instead of telling the General Assembly how to do its job and what bills to pass, Gov. Wolf should instead work with us to reopen Pennsylvania’s economy, get those struggling to pay their bills back to work safely, and restore some sense of normalcy to the people of the Commonwealth.”

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