Philly’s looming eviction crisis

Listen 13:00
A group of housing advocates protesting evictions tried to block the court entrance Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 (Courtesy of Sterling Johnson)

A group of housing advocates protesting evictions tried to block the court entrance Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 (Courtesy of Sterling Johnson)

Having a safe place to live has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as the economic fallout forced millions of people out of work, many of them struggled to pay their rent. 

Now, the state’s moratorium on evictions has expired. The CDC has stepped in with its own federal moratorium and renters in Philly recently got a temporary reprieve, but neither offers a longterm solution. Ryan Briggs of WHYY’s PlanPhilly explains why as many as 100,000 households in the city are still at risk of eviction.

Hear the whole story on The Why

Interview highlights

On the dilemma of Philly renter Lucille Davis

She’s 63 years old. She was a nursing assistant, but she’s been out of work since mid-April and she’s on disability now with a double knee injury. She’s a North Philly resident and we had talked to her because she’s had a lot of trouble finding stable housing. About a year ago, a pipe had burst in the home that she was renting and her landlord was pretty upfront with her and said … “I don’t have the money to fix this.” And told her basically just to to leave and find a different place to rent. So she was sort of stuck in a situation where she suddenly had to find and eventually settled for a house on a bad block. That was kind of falling apart. It’s still cost $900 a month. And she took it because she basically didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Lucille moved into a house that she said had sagging ceilings … The landlord told her, oh, he’d he’d fix it after she moved in and he never he never did that … Then COVID-19 happened, and then things start to get worse … So in early August, the sewer line backed up. Lucille didn’t want to get kicked out in the middle of a pandemic, but her daughter suggested that she withhold rent. And so that’s what Lucille wound up doing, so her landlord immediately filed to evict her.

On why Wolf did not extend the state’s eviction moratorium 

I think that the governor’s position was that he didn’t have the authority to extend the emergency order anymore without support of the state Legislature. The day that it expired, Wolf essentially held a press conference, in effect, begging the General Assembly to act and to essentially create a new moratorium, providing more relief for renters to avoid what some people predict would be a wave of tens of thousands, if not more evictions sweeping the state.

On why evictions have been a serious problem in Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s court system reopened this month, but they independently elected to essentially delay executing evictions for two weeks. And then in that period of time, Philadelphia Councilmember Helen Gym introduced a bill in City Council that would essentially reinstate Philadelphia’s expired eviction moratorium through the rest of the year. This bill has been endorsed by the governor, who is also calling upon the state Legislature to take similar action. No one entity can handle our eviction crisis by itself. So this is still sort of a big issue in Philly.

A lot of people who will be affected by it are in precarious positions. Studies have found that  70% of evictions in Philly targeted black residents, 74% target women, and 90% of evictions are over nonpayment of rent. So it’s essentially not tenant behavior necessarily, but just people running out of money …  Local landlord groups like the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia, they said their members are at a breaking point as well. They say that these renter protections, these eviction moratoriums have hurt property owners financially.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal