As End Of Eviction Moratorium Nears, Millions In Federal Assistance Remains
As the end of a moratorium on evictions approaches at the end of this week, millions of dollars in federal rental assistance remains available.
Allegheny County has paid out more than $13 million in aid as of Wednesday, though it has more than $50 million remaining unspent. People can continue to apply for rental assistance after the moratorium ends.
Advocates and officials say the program is running more smoothly than a state-run rent relief program last year, but it is still taking time to get dollars to help tenants who owe back rent.
The average amount of funds paid out for household so far is about $5,300, according to statistics from the county. More than 11,000 households have applied, and more than 2,500 have received payments so far.
“Each of those applications is processed by real-life, individual human beings,” said Abby Rae LaCombe, director of the advocacy group RentHelpPGH. “You need to go through all of the documentation and connect with the applicant and help them understand what's missing. And that process goes all the way through the landlord to the final payment. So, it still is taking time and there are definitely bottlenecks. But those bottlenecks are there because of the sheer amount of need.”
An eviction moratorium from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expires at the end of the month. The moratorium did not forgive any rent tenants might have owed, did not prevent cases from being filed, nor did it halt all evictions.
The Pennsylvania Apartment Association, a statewide group of landlords and property managers, has been encouraging its members to apply for the aid to help them pay their bills, said Andre Del Valle, the group’s director of government affairs.
“There is always hesitancy, right, when a program sounds too good to be true…you're a little hesitant. But this is a program that when it works, it does work,” he said.
Nationally, more than $1.5 billion in rental aid went out to eligible households in June, according to data released last week from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The pace of assistance being delivered to struggling households has increased considerably since state and local programs got off the ground in March. However, "there is still much further work to go to ensure tenants and landlords take advantage of the historic funding available to help cover rent, utilities, and other housing costs and keep people in their homes,” Treasury officials noted in a press release.
“While more households are getting help, in many states and localities, funds are still not flowing fast enough to renters and landlords.”
In Pennsylvania last year, a state program, beset by red tape, struggled to get funds to tenants and landlords who needed the money.
Advocates have said they are concerned the end of the moratorium will lead to a surge in evictions and homelessness.
“The problem is that the eviction moratorium is expiring," said Phyllis Chamberlain, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. "And it does take a few weeks to process the applications.”
“I think we're going to see a pretty solid uptick in not just eviction filings, but in evictions actually taking place, a particularly shameful circumstance, because, again, the money is there,” said LaCombe. “It just takes time to get a program this large processing. It takes time to get your application in all the way to step five and having it paid out. And frankly, the end of this moratorium feels like such an arbitrary deadline that's really going to have a horrible impact on the lives of families, in particular, single moms and their children across the Allegheny County.”
The state ranks ninth in terms of percentage relief of funds spent so far, according to Treasury data, Chamberlain said.
In Allegheny County, you could be eligible for rental assistance if you have at least one person in your household who qualifies for unemployment, has lost income, or suffered financially due to COVID-19; have at least one person in your home at risk of experiencing homelessness if they don’t get help; and meet certain income guidelines. Funds can be used for utility aid as well.
To apply for aid if you live in Allegheny County, https://covidrentrelief.alleghenycounty.us/ or call ACTION-Housing at 412-248-0021.
If you live outside of Allegheny County, https://www.compass.state.pa.us/.