Philadelphia offers COVID-impacted tenants more help with rent — up to $1,500

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Philadelphia tenants who have been affected by COVID-19 could receive up to $1,500 a month in rental assistance — an increase from the previous limit of $750 a month.

All new applicants, as well as those who have already applied for the Emergency Rental Assistance program’s second phase, will automatically receive the increase.

“Our goal throughout the pandemic has been – and continues to be – to keep people in their homes,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.

“Whether it’s through our rental assistance program, COVID emergency housing sites, or our eviction diversion program, maintaining housing for our most vulnerable residents is critical.”

The increased rental assistance comes at a time when a record number of families are struggling to pay rent. Philly has an unemployment rate of 17.7% as of June and thousands of businesses are hurting, with Black-owned businesses hit especially hard. Even before the pandemic lowered incomes, about 40% of Philadelphia households qualified as “cost-burdened,” spending more than 30% of their income on rent or a mortgage, according to a recent Pew study.

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency received the funding for the program through the federal CARES Act, which provides dollars to states to address the coronavirus pandemic.

While the state program is required to cap tenant assistance at $750, cities are permitted to increase that amount with local funding, which the City of Philadelphia also received from the CARES Act.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said the city needed to increase the level of assistance to get necessary buy-in from landlords. He said the city received approximately 13,000 applications from tenants while only 6,200 applications from landlords. A tenant cannot participate without the approval of their landlord.

“The landlord participation rate in this program is 48% — revealing the $750 per month is not sufficient to induce landlord participation,” Clarke said.

The Council President said average rent of tenants who participated in the program’s first phase was higher than $1,100 per month.

Applicants must be Philadelphia residents, have lost more than 30% of their income due to job loss or reduced hours during the pandemic, and the renter’s income at the time they apply cannot be more than 100% of the area median income — or $87,000 for a family of three.

Payments are made to landlords, who must agree to the terms of the program and may not displace a tenant for at least 60 days from the final month of rental assistance.

“With many tenants unable to pay rent  and a federal eviction moratorium in place, it is essential that we help our renters and their landlords to weather the storm,” Greg Heller, Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation senior vice president of community investment, said in a statement. “We hope that this change allows many more landlords and tenants to participate and receive the assistance they need.”

Clarke said the new funding will help the city prevent evictions and homelessness.

“This increased rental assistance has numerous social, health and economic benefits for tenants, landlords and our City – including reducing evictions and stabilizing landlords, many of whom are small businesses,” he said in a statement. “In addition, in many cases evictions lead to homelessness, which further burdens our City’s budget as the cost of providing services to the homeless will far exceed any allocation of CARES funds that we put into a program that will help keep tenants in their homes.”

Residents can apply at https://phlrentassist.org/

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