The City of Philadelphia celebrated the success of its rental assistance program this week at City Hall. The event brought together city, state and federal officials to highlight how the program helped people survive the pandemic.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said he wants to devote more money to the program, which helps divert people out of the eviction court system and offers grants to help tenants and landlords come to a compromise.
Hundreds of millions of dollars has already been provided for rent relief, allowing unemployed workers and those behind on their payments to catch up on their back rent, Wolf said. He’s calling on the state legislature to add more of the remaining federal funds to the rent relief programs so they can restart the program to help people still struggling to survive and keep their homes and apartments.
Philly’s rental assistance program shut down in January as funds dwindled, but it was briefly restarted earlier this month with an extra $17 million, which included rental assistance money left unspent by other Pa. counties.
Diane Dantzler is one of the 39,000 people helped by rental assistance. She retired from one job and lost the job she was still going to because of the pandemic. After falling on “hard times,” she couldn’t pay all her rent. Mounting late fees only compounded her problems. Dantzler said a grant for rent assistance brought her up to date in her rent and that in turn gave her the ability to pay her full rent going forward.
Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said looking at the numbers proves that the program is working with over a quarter billion dollars distributed to families. He said that money helped cut Philadelphia’s eviction filings by 66%. He was impressed with how the city and state worked together with available funds to help those struggling close the gap and keep them in their homes.
Dave Thomas of the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation said it wasn’t easy to keep the rental assistance program operational, especially with most of his employees working from home during the pandemic.
Thomas said the shelter-in-place situation had people in their kitchen, dining room tables, and other places working out a system to get the necessary information from renters and in turn move the money out to landlords to avoid evictions.
The program isn’t taking any new applicants for now, but officials say if more money is made available, they could reopen the process for people who are still in need.
WHYY 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.