Senators Saval, Costa, Hughes, Haywood Announce New Legislation to Keep Struggling Pennsylvanians Housed

evictionImage via Pennsylvania Senate Democrats

HARRISBURG, PA — Senator Nikil Saval (D–Philadelphia), Senator Jay Costa (D–Allegheny), Senator Vincent Hughes (D–Philadelphia/Montgomery), and Senator Art Haywood (D–Philadelphia/Montgomery) this week announced their plans for legislation to keep struggling Pennsylvanians housed. This sweeping legislation would pick up aid to Pennsylvania renters and homeowners where federal eviction and foreclosure moratoria left off.

The proposed legislation would require landlords seeking to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent to apply for relief from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. In addition, courts with jurisdiction over the eviction process would be required to grant a continuance of 60 days, until a decision for the tenant’s rental assistance application is reached.

Mortgage servicers, similarly, would be required to inform borrowers of financial programs to help prevent foreclosure and to halt foreclosure proceedings until they are compliant with federal loss mitigation guidelines. The Office of the Attorney General would oversee claims from servicers that demonstrate difficulties with compliance.

“The eviction and foreclosure moratoria were never designed to permanently prevent the forced removal of people from their homes—these measures simply determined who would be evicted now and who would be evicted later on,” said Senator Saval. “Right now, our Commonwealth has $500 million in state rental assistance funds for struggling tenants and $350 million in federal funds for struggling homeowners. If we act swiftly, we can prevent poverty-based evictions and foreclosures. Our legislation will be a blueprint to keep Pennsylvanians who have struggled for so long safe in their homes.”

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“When Congress appropriated more than $1.5 billion in emergency rental assistance to the Commonwealth to address rent and utility delinquencies created due to the COVID-19 pandemic, very few counties had a rental assistance program ready for the sudden influx of money and that has caused significant delays in getting money to those who need it,” said Senator Costa. “We know the necessary funding is available to alleviate the economic stresses the pandemic has put on homeowners, landlords, and tenants alike, and through this legislation, we can ensure that people stay housed without it coming at the expense of landlords and mortgage companies. Knowing that evicting people from their homes is detrimental to our public health and can interfere with efforts to slow the ongoing pandemic, we need an all hands on deck approach to address this matter.”

“For the past 18 months, Pennsylvanians have endured compounding crises—the largest public health crisis in generations, layered on top of a decades-long housing crisis,” said Senator Hughes. “Our highest priority, as legislators, is the health and well-being of our people. In Philadelphia, we have seen first-hand that linking struggling tenants with rental assistance has drastically reduced the number of eviction filings. We need to extend these protections to people across the Commonwealth, and we are excited for our colleagues to add their support.”

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“The Supreme Court may end the moratorium this week,” said Senator Haywood, noting that for Pennsylvania renters, the ever-present threat of eviction looms heavily on the horizon. “This legislation to protect Pennsylvania tenants and homeowners from eviction and foreclosure is critical.”

The announcement of the new legislation comes as COVID-19 cases around the United States climb to the highest levels seen since February 2021, near the height of the pandemic. A wave of panic struck renters when the previous eviction moratorium expired at the end of July.

Requiring landlords to apply for rental assistance as a precursor to filing eviction for nonpayment has a proven track record in Pennsylvania. This approach has been used as part of a successful eviction diversion program by the City of Philadelphia, which consequently saw the number of eviction filings drop by more than 75%. Through this process, both landlord and tenant are protected. The proposed state legislation would do the same for renters and extend similar protections to homeowners and mortgage servicers.

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The need for this legislation is immense. Recent results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Household Pulse Surveys indicate that an average of 25.1% of U.S. renters reported being unable pay rent or worrying that they might not be able to do so in the next two months. An average of 8.1% of U.S. homeowners reported that they face foreclosure, and another 4.6% indicated they are behind on their mortgage payments.

The full co-sponsorship memo is available here.

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