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Gov. Wolf calls for legislative action to help homeowners and renters avoid an eviction cliff

With rent and mortgage debt mounting for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, Gov. Tom Wolf is calling on the General Assembly to fix a state relief program to prevent many families from becoming homeless and enact a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until the end of the year. The governor was joined today by legislators and housing advocates at a press conference in Lancaster County.

“Pennsylvania is still racing toward an eviction cliff when thousands of families will face months of unpaid rent and fees,” said Wolf. “We must address the mounting rent debt to help tenants stay in their home and allow landlords to pay their mortgages.

“If the legislature does not act to fix the state’s relief program, even more families may be facing homelessness on Jan. 1, during the coldest time of the year. That would be terrible for families and will strain local social services and taxpayers that are already stretched to the limit by the pandemic.”

Legislation is needed to ensure people have a stable place to live after the governor’s executive order pausing evictions and foreclosures expired on Aug. 31. The governor signed the orders on May 7 and July 9 as a Pennsylvania Supreme Court eviction moratorium expired in May. The state’s Emergency Services Code does not allow the governor to provide further relief related to temporary housing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halted some rental evictions nationwide until Dec. 31, however some tenants and all homeowners are still at risk. It is a temporary Band-Aid that does not stop foreclosures or help landlords who are struggling to pay mortgages and local property taxes. Nearly 400,000 Pennsylvanians, approximately 17% of renters in the state, are at risk of being evicted, according to the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

In addition to legislation to pause evictions, the governor is again urging the legislature to improve the CARES Rent Relief Program and provide an extra $100 million in CARES funding. Enacted in May, the program provides $150 million in rent relief and $25 million in mortgage relief but is helping fewer people than intended. According to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which administers the program and is recommending changes, 16,600 tenants applied for $31.7 million in relief in August, however only 1,756 tenants were approved for $3.3 million because of the cumbersome application process.

As part of his fall legislative agenda for worker and family support and protections, COVID-19 recovery, and government reform, the governor is proposing $100 million in grants to help Pennsylvanians with utility costs. The funds would be divided between the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and a new emergency water/wastewater program administered by PENNVEST.