With the end of the federal moratorium on evictions looming, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is notifying the state judiciary about what services and resources are available to tenants who are behind on their rent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month pushed back the moratorium to July 31, but indicated this would be the final extension it would offer, which could lead to a cascade of evictions of people who have been unable to pay their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Acting Human Services Secretary Meg Snead sent a letter last week to Geoff Moulton, court administrator of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts that oversees the state’s court system, reminding the judiciary of the number of federal and state grants available to those who need rental assistance in order to avoid being removed from their residences.
With the court system being at the frontlines of evictions when hearings could resume in August, Snead’s letter Thursday apparently was to inform magistrates and county judges about the $1.3 billion in state and federal money for rent relief and utility payments available to both tenants and landlords in Pennsylvania to stave off a potential housing crisis.
Snead’s letter warns that the lengthy moratorium dating back to last March, which “delayed the potential wave of evictions” while the country was in the midst of an economic downturn when many businesses were forced to close their doors as the coronavirus spread, will end in three weeks.
“Even with this short-term reprieve, I am still gravely concerned about how the end of protections against eviction will affect individuals and families across Pennsylvania,” Snead wrote in the letter. “Evictions and a potential spike of people experiencing homelessness represent a serious threat to public health, but the ripple effects extend further.”
Snead’s letter to Moulton was apparently forwarded to judges and county court administrators across the state Friday.
The two rounds of funds through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program will deliver more than $1 billion in rent and utility assistance across the state, along with an additional $278 million in direct assistance that has been divided up and sent to counties in Pennsylvania with more than 200,000 residents, including Washington County.
“These programs represent a historic opportunity to prevent a deeper housing, public health, and economic crisis that a surge of evictions would create and to help people most affected by the economic insecurity of this past year emerge from this pandemic with a stable place to live,” Snead wrote in the letter. “I am writing to you today to respectfully seek the judicial branch’s assistance to help educate both landlords and tenants about the ERAP programs as we look to move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The letter includes information about the ERAP program, including who qualifies and how to apply on the state’s website at www.dhs.pa.gov/erap. Additional information about how each county is handling the program is also available on the website.