Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation on May 29 allocating $175 million of coronavirus relief funds for a COVID-19 Relief Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program and an additional $10 million for Homeless Assistance Grants. The funding will support communities in preventing evictions, stabilizing landlord small businesses, and ensuring adequate support for those who are one paycheck away from homelessness. Members of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, a NLIHC state partner, launched the Come Back Strong Campaign to advocate for this program and to address significant structural and systemic barriers to opportunity for low income individuals and people of color.
Rental assistance is necessary because fewer than 1 in 3 renters have enough money set aside for a three-month emergency. Too many households are on the brink, living paycheck to paycheck. The need for rental assistance and other support for low-income families has only grown since the onset of the pandemic. Pennsylvania is experiencing one of the highest rates of job loss in the country, both in terms of total number of unemployment claims and per capita job losses. Initial estimates indicate that 15% of (or 200,000) renter households are impacted by COVID-19 employment loss or wage reduction. While an eviction moratorium is in place until July 11, rent is still due, and this new funding will help households avoid eviction once the moratorium is lifted.
The COVID-19 Relief Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program will be administered by the Pennsylvania State Housing Finance Agency. Rental payments through this program will be made based on tenant needs but paid directly to landlords. Eligible renters include those who became unemployed after March 1, 2020 or had their annual household income reduced by 30% or more due to reduced work hours and wages related to COVID-19. Eligible households must have current income below 80% of the area median income (AMI) in order to receive assistance. The entire rent payment can be covered by the program but cannot exceed $750. Payments can be paid for up to six months, until November 30, 2020.
The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania engaged advocates and landlords through the Come Back Strong Campaign, an effort to ensure that Pennsylvania’s economic recovery includes the needs of the lowest income renters. They worked with the Pennsylvania Apartment Association to make the case that rental assistance programs prevent an increase in evictions, stabilize tenants in their homes, and ensure landlords can meet their financial and operational obligations.
The Come Back Strong Campaign engaged advocates from a variety of endeavors. Campaign members wrote op-eds, helped draft and review the legislation, gathered endorsements, and collected stories on how rental assistance would help the lowest-income households who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania will continue to engage in COVID-19 recovery efforts. The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, Hunger Free Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, Pennsylvania Alliance of YMCAs, and United Way of Pennsylvania are co-hosting a Virtual Summer Town Hall Series for key state leaders to speak with nonprofits about COVID-19 recovery and their partnership with the nonprofit sector. Each town hall will be a moderated question and answer session with each leader. The first conversation will be with the Department of Human Services, Secretary Teresa Miller, and will be held on Friday, June 5, at 11 am ET, moderated by Kristen Rotz, president of the United Way of Pennsylvania.