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Identity & Community

With eviction protections set to expire, community groups urge Allegheny County for an extension

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Kiley Koscinski
/
90.5 WESA
Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, executive director of Pittsburgh United, speaks at a press conference Wednesday, Oct. 27, at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Eviction proceedings for nonpayment could resume in Allegheny County next week. An extended eviction moratorium and is set to expire Sunday.

More than 60 community groups and nearly a dozen elected officials urged the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Wednesday to extend protections. Court President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark requested an extension of the previous eviction moratorium in August.

If the moratorium is allowed to expire, 437 evictions cases will begin next week. There are 995 scheduled for the month of November.

“Housing is health care for our neighbors,” said Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, executive director of Pittsburgh United at a press conference Wednesday. “We need to keep the people who are still waiting in their homes.”

Since March, only 38% of the 19,266 households that applied for rental assistance have received a payment.

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services said income and lease verification paired with technology issues are partly to blame for the slow pace.

According to county data, 11,804 households that have applied for assistance are still waiting to be approved and to receive payment.

Teaira Collins, a member of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, said her daughter is struggling to keep up with her rent and utilities while treating polycystic kidney disease.

“My daughter does home dialysis seven days a week. So if I would have let her lights go off, she would die,” she said. “She applied for rental help in July and has yet to receive the funds.”

Pittsburghers for Public Transit and Pittsburgh United were joined by representatives from a long list of groups including the Black Political Empowerment Project; the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network; the Alliance for Police Accountability; Casa San Jose; Bend the Arc Jewish Action Pittsburgh; Black Women’s Policy Center; the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University; Just Harvest; the Hazelwood Initiative; the Hazelwood Initiative; Lawrenceville United; Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid; Pittsburgh Union of Regional Renters; SEIU Health Care Pennsylvania; Sisters PGH; and the Abolitionist Law Center Court Watch.

Pittsburgh United delivered a letter to Judge Berkeley Clark urging her to extend protections. Pleas Court administrator Joe Asturi accepted the letter on her behalf.

Judge Berkeley Clark’s office declined to comment on the letter or the looming expiration of protections.

“Applying for housing aid and rental relief is a long and arduous process… not a process that suddenly stops on October 31st,” Pittsburgh City Councilmember Deb Gross said.

Gross and other elected leaders joined the call for an extension, including state Sen. Lindsey Williams, state Reps. Sara Innamorato, Summer Lee and Ed Gainey, County Councilmembers Liv Bennett and Bethany Hallam and City Councilmember Erika Strassburger.

Housing advocates also called for long-term solutions to prevent the need for emergency programs in the future.

Rafanan Kennedy urged local leaders and judges to work together “to make sure that we can keep people out of the eviction system in the first place so that this isn’t a crisis.”

Dave Swanson, pastor of the Pittsburgh Mennonite Church, urged the county to see the humanity of renters who need help staying in their homes.

“As the weather turns cold, as our young children are still not vaccinated [against] COVID… we do not need to exacerbate the problem by putting people on the streets,” he said.

Updated: October 28, 2021 at 9:21 AM EDT