Governor Wolf’s office announced today that he will not be extending the evictions moratorium that he previously extended from July to August 31st. As a result, as of September 1st, renters behind on payments are once again vulnerable to the eviction process; activists are already concerned about a flood of landlords filing eviction notices against tenants this week, potentially triggering a wave of evictions.
According to a survey last month, about one in five Pennsylvania adults said they either had already missed a rent or mortgage payment, or expected to be late in August. This means potentially one in five people, which is 20% of adults, in the state might face eviction in September if the moratorium is not immediately extended. A rough estimate is that Pennsylvania’s adult population is around 10 million people, so to put the eviction crisis in perspective, potentially 20% of 10 million people, or about 2 million people, could be facing eviction this month. Where will 2,000,000 people go if the state lets this happen? It’s unprecedented in the modern era. Looking specifically at renters, 40% of renters are at risk of eviction in PA.
Evictions are always a problem, but particularly cruel right now due to an ongoing global pandemic, as well as cooler weather reminding us that winter is creeping ever closer. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to be homeless, but with the US economy reeling and many out of work with little prospect for new work in the near future, evictions are going to turn into homelessness.
It is especially angering to me that this deadline for the eviction moratorium has been known for months, but Wolf was not talking about it prior to the deadline. The general assembly was not talking about it prior to the deadline, apart from a small few outspoken members. There seemed to be no urgency to keep people in their homes. And yet, when the petrochemical industry wanted bailouts just a few months ago, legislators scrambled over a weekend to ensure that the industry got millions of dollars in funding, by passing House Bill 1100 with strong bipartisan support.
But right, they suddenly can’t find a way to keep people in their homes, after knowing this was a problem for months ahead of time? It really shows you the priorities of officials in both parties. Both Republicans and Democrats are absolutely failing the people.
I call on my elected officials Representative Anita Kulik and Senator Wayne Fontana to work to immediately extend an eviction moratorium, and provide other such relief to anyone affected by this lapse in the moratorium so they may halt eviction attempts or otherwise find housing. They must get LOUD at their support for these measures and push legislative leaders to make it happen. If they honestly cannot do this, then I call on them to resign immediately and let someone else take over that will take it seriously. State legislators in Pennsylvania are some of the highest paid in the nation, making about $90,000 per year salary plus numerous perks and benefits. They don’t deserve a penny of that salary if they can’t find a way to protect people during a pandemic and keep them in their homes.
The House Democratic Housing Working Group issued a statement announcing a package of bills to address the housing crisis during COVID-19. I cannot immediately provide full comment or endorsement of these bills as the text is not immediately available from the statement or on the general assembly website, but the short summaries provided suggest a decent package of bills that I would likely support if I were in office. House Bill 2836 sounds like a simple authorization for the Governor to extend the eviction moratorium, and if so, I fully support it and urge all legislators to immediately co-sponsor and rush to put it into law. My main comment would be with the proposed bills HB 2838 and HB 2839 that would simply remove late fees and require landlords to set up payment plans for renters. I don’t believe payment plans will be enough; I believe we’re going to need a “debt jubilee” of some form, whether direct debt forgiveness or extended COVID-19 “stimulus” checks, to truly address this crisis. Otherwise, even when people finally find work again after COVID-19 crisis is over and the economy starts to recover, they will still be saddled with thousands of dollars in rent or mortgage debt that will be near impossible to catch up on with low-wages – which itself will spark more economic turmoil. We need a debt jubilee, and furthermore need the minimum wage raised to be a living wage, among many other ideas found in the Green New Deal to protect our economic rights and create good-paying, union jobs in renewable energy and green infrastructure. The Green New Deal is the ultimate answer to housing, the economy, and the climate crisis, and so I also urge legislators to put a Green New Deal into effect at the state level as soon as possible. Finland has an interesting take on this by taking a “housing first” policy – first put people into affordable housing, waive the rent the first few months, and then help them get a job. I would support establishing a policy like this in Pennsylvania.
In the meantime, several programs exist to provide assistance in paying rents or mortgages, although these programs have limited funding. PublicSource has a good article describing these programs and where to go to apply; please check it out and share with anyone you know that may be facing difficulty paying rent or an eviction.
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