WEST CHESTER, PA — Chester County’s Eviction Prevention Court, a program that provides a combination of legal representation, financial assistance and social services for individuals or families facing eviction, is gaining momentum and funding – resulting in a planned expansion of the service.
Piloted in September in conjunction with the Downingtown Magisterial District Court, Eviction Prevention Court (EPC) services will become available on January 5, 2021 to residents served by two additional district courts that cover the City of Coatesville, the Borough of South Coatesville, and Valley Township.
Designed to address and avert the long-lasting and devastating impact that evictions can have on individuals and families, the Eviction Prevention Court was established by Chester County nonprofit Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children, with financial support from public and private partnerships, including the Chester County Department of Community Development and the United Way of Chester County.
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means that, across the nation, millions more renters are at risk of eviction through no fault of their own. Chester County is no exception,” said Jennifer Lopez, Executive Director of Friends Association.
“The federal government’s moratorium on evictions is currently set to be lifted at the end of the month, so there is an even greater need to offer eviction prevention services. The expansion of the EPC program to the Coatesville area at the beginning of 2021 is very timely, and we are grateful for the chance to help even more families.
“And Eviction Prevention Court benefits landlords and the court system, as well as renters – making it a win-win-win situation for all involved,” added Lopez.
The first step of the EPC program begins when Friends Association is notified of an eviction case filing. At that point EPC representatives offer support for the tenant that can include financial assistance and legal representation on actions such as negotiations with the landlord or relocation prior to eviction. Importantly, the contact made with individuals and families through EPC can lead to connections with Friends Association and the organization’s additional services, including rental assistance and trauma counseling.
In the first four months of the pilot operation in Downingtown, EPC provided support for nearly 40 percent of eviction cases. The legal and financial advisors taking part in the program helped with relocation of individuals and families prior to eviction, enabled pay-and-stay agreements, and negotiated reductions in amounts owed.
Yolanda Van de Krol, Chester County’s Clerk of Courts and a board member of Friends Association, commented, “Eviction prevention is about finding a way to create solutions between landlords and tenants that will improve the stability of the households facing eviction, and the ripple effects of those solutions help the community as a whole. The successful pilot program was made possible through the agreement and support of the Honorable Judge Valocchi who resides over Downingtown District Court 15-4-02, as well as a growing number of public-private partnerships.”
Funding for the Eviction Prevention Court program came through $100,000 in CARES funds provided by the Chester County Department of Community Development, along with financial support from the United Way of Chester County, the County Commissioners’ non-profit resiliency grant program, Genuardi Family Foundation, the Vanguard Hometown Grants program, the Chester County Bar Foundation, the Fox Chase Charitable Foundation, and the Chester County Fund for Women and Girls.
Pat Bokovitz, Director of Chester County’s Department of Community Development said, “Keeping Chester County families in their homes, at all times but especially during this pandemic, is crucial. The Eviction Prevention Court offers help to those who find themselves in the highly stressful situation of landlord-tenant disputes and potential court cases, often not knowing where to turn. We see this as a worthwhile additional tool in the County’s efforts to prevent and end homelessness, and are pleased to support Friends Association as it expands the program to the Coatesville area.”
Eviction Prevention Court services will continue through Downingtown District Court 15-4-02, and beginning January 5th, will be offered through Magisterial District Court 15-1-03 in Coatesville, led by the Honorable Judge Gregory Hines, and through Magisterial District Court 15-1-05, based in Valley Township and led by the Honorable Judge Grover E. Koon.
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