Rep. Scanlon: Philadelphia’s Eviction Diversion Program is a National Model

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In the face of all the challenges of the pandemic, there has been at least one silver lining in Philadelphia: the development of an impressive eviction diversion program that has kept tens of thousands of Philadelphians at home.

Building on lessons learned from the mortgage foreclosure crisis, the Philadelphia court system implemented an Evictions Diversion Program that has become a model for the whole country on how to prevent evictions and prevent evictions from occurring. effectively use federal funds allocated under the various COVID-19 relief programs passed by Congress. . The Philadelphia program has been hailed as a success by the Congressional Record and the Biden administration, including in a letter sent by the US Department of Justice to courts across the country to raise awareness of the rental assistance available and to avoid a wave of new evictions. Other counties in Pennsylvania have also adopted similar programs.

Despite the success of Philly’s eviction diversion program, its prosecution is in jeopardy. The program operated under a rule change granted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that expires at the end of October.

Before the pandemic, Philadelphia recorded an average of 20,000 evictions per year, fourth of the total number of cases among the largest American cities. Now, the Philadelphia City Court is seeing far fewer – only 5,000 this year to date. Local and federal moratoria have played a role, but the dramatic drop is due in large part to the city’s unique approach, which combines assistance with mediation instead of court proceedings for the eviction.

Last year, Congress created the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to help keep residents in their homes and keep homeowners free during the pandemic. Philadelphia has received nearly $ 200 million under this program, through the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan.

As cities, counties and states across the country struggled to get federal help to those in need, Philadelphia created a win-win system for tenants and landlords – establishing a program that prevents evictions by helping tenants to pay the rent.

This is crucial in a city like Philadelphia, where 73% of landlords only rent one or two properties, and these small landlords provide most of the city’s affordable housing stock. These small landlords are often in an economic situation similar to that of their tenants. They don’t sit on inherited wealth or earn money – and don’t have a huge financial cushion. When tenants cannot afford the rent, these landlords often cannot afford to operate the properties or meet their own basic needs.

Courts in Philadelphia have required landlords to apply for rent assistance and participate in the diversion program before filing an eviction application. This process ensured that eligible landlords and tenants would have access to federal funds and avoid the expense and trauma of the eviction in as many cases as possible. The program provides a housing counselor to help tenants complete rental assistance applications, assess finances, and determine if other issues need to be addressed. He then mediates between the two parties to settle these issues. This early intervention also helps tenants avoid a negative court ruling that could affect their credit rating and make it more difficult to find housing in the future.

The whole program was made possible because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a series of time-limited orders allowing it – but the most recent will expire on October 31. Philadelphia courts have asked to extend the diversion waiver again. Now the state Supreme Court just has to approve it.

Philadelphians need this revolutionary, effective and efficient program to continue. Based on recent data (as of October 22), the City has distributed more than $ 206 million in aid to more than 34,000 households since the start of the PHLRentAssist program in May 2020.

While there have been reports that the Philly Assistance Program may be underfunded, the US Treasury is considering reallocating unused ERA money from areas that do not need funding. or who have not set up programs to disburse it. is the potential for millions of dollars in additional rent relief to come to Philadelphia. Expanding the eviction diversion program would help ensure that this funding reaches the residents who need it most.

Our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet complete and thousands of requests for eviction assistance are still pending in the system. We have the ability to help tenants avoid eviction, while helping landlords avoid vacancies and the costs of housing turnover.

If evictions pick up on the scale we saw before 2020, Philadelphians will be on the streets, homeowners will lose income, and much of the city’s affordable housing could be sold.

Our most vulnerable families and our regional economy cannot afford a wave of evictions. Preventing evictions, whether through legal assistance or rental assistance, has proven to have financial payoffs and net benefits for our communities. Rather than allowing an abrupt end to a successful program, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has the option of continuing to provide stability for litigants and courts. This is the kind of program we should be looking to replicate across the Commonwealth, not cut short.

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