State Senate Democrats Urge State Supreme Court to Take Action on Evictions

eviction noticeImage via Pennsylvania Senate Democrats

HARRISBURG, PA — The Senate Democratic Caucus sent the following letter to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to encourage the court to take action to halt evictions for tenants who already have pending applications in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Justices of the Supreme Court:

We are writing to request the court take action to halt evictions for those individuals who have applied for one of the emergency rental assistance programs but the submitted application has not yet been reviewed.

As you may be aware, Congress has 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. Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court recently invalidated the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) eviction moratorium.

Very few counties had a rental assistance program ready for the sudden influx of money for emergency rental assistance from the Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2020 and the American Rescue Plan. The lack of existing programs required counties to build new programs before assistance could begin flowing to landlords and tenants.

The creation of new programs has caused a significant delay in the review and approval of applications which will leave many renters facing the possibility of an eviction before their application has even been reviewed. Based off available data, less than 24% of the direct and state allocations of rental assistance has been spent. To date, Philadelphia has received more than 50,000 applications for rental assistance but has only reviewed 26,707 of those applications. This leaves nearly 50% of the applications unreviewed. In Allegheny County, 14,194 applications have been received to date but only 4,940 applications have been finalized.

According to the June 2021 report from Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, $459.586 million of the $564.109 million appropriated to counties for emergency rental assistance remains unspent. Several counties, including Lancaster, Lehigh and York, have yet to commit any money received. Publicly available data from Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties show that nearly half of the applicants for assistance are families, and a majority of the applicants identify as black.

While these numbers are alarming, they are not unique to Pennsylvania. According to data available from the U.S. Treasury Department, more than 341,000 households received assistance in July, an increase from the 183,000 households since May, but as noted “…there is still much further work to go to ensure tenants and landlords take advantage of the historic funding available to help cover rent, utilities, and other housing costs to keep people in their homes.”

Previously our caucus has worked with the Court to protect homeowners and renters during the devastating COVID-19 crisis. We are again asking the Court to take statewide action to protect renters across the Commonwealth by imposing a statewide pause to evictions filed when an individual applies for assistance through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).

Our request is narrowly tailored to allow counties the time they need to get through the unprecedented number of applications for assistance received and ensure that no renter loses their home before an application for assistance has been reviewed.

We believe the necessary funding is available to alleviate the economic stresses the pandemic has put on landlords and tenants alike and that an additional pause on evictions will ensure that funding gets to those who need it.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

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