City Council extends eviction diversion program

The amendment, from Councilmember Helen Gym, extends the requirement through March 31, 2021.

Homes in Francisville/Spring Garden

Houses are pictured in Francisville/Spring Garden. (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

City Council on Thursday unanimously approved an amendment that will extend Philadelphia’s eviction diversion program, which requires landlords to engage in mediation with tenants prior to taking legal actions over unpaid rent.

The program was set to expire at the end of the month. The amendment, from Councilmember Helen Gym, extends the requirement through March 31, 2021. Originally, Gym wanted to extend it until June.

“Without alternatives like mediation, thousands of renters and their families could be evicted this winter, increasing the spread of COVID,” said Gym in a statement issued Thursday after the vote.

Council first passed the eviction diversion requirement in June, along with other housing relief efforts earlier in the year, as a reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. Although evictions were largely suspended during earlier months of the pandemic — and a Centers for Disease Control order still allows tenants to seek COVID-related relief through the end of the year — certain complaints that can result in eviction have since been permitted to move forward.

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Housing advocates say mediation can help both landlords and tenants reach mutually agreeable outcomes, instead of defaulting to eviction.

Gym’s office indicated that 230 mediations have taken place, 180 of which resulted in successful payment agreements.

“This shows there are actually alternatives to eviction that can work when we put effort into it,” Gym said of successful diversions. “This has resulted in better outcomes for landlords and tenants.”

During the council’s final session of the year on Thursday, Gym called for more action to stave off a wave of pandemic-related evictions: from more outreach to the reinstatement of an eviction moratorium, to making the diversion program a permanent feature of city courts. The courts announced in November that most evictions would be paused until 2021.

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Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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