Renters and homeowners struggling to cover the costs of housing due to the coronavirus pandemic can now apply for help. Pennsylvania’s rent relief and mortgage assistance programs began accepting applications Monday.
In May, the state legislature allocated at least $150 million for renters and $25 million for homeowners. Funding for the programs comes from the federal CARES Act, and is being managed by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
Renters can receive up to $4,500 over six months to cover payments between March and December. Mortgage assistance is capped at $6,000 over six months and must be used over the same period.
While $175 million may seem like a significant sum, “it could pale in terms of a huge volume of need,” said Bryce Maretzki, the agency’s director of policy and planning. He noted that at one point, the need for rental assistance in Pennsylvania was estimated to be $400 million.
“We’re going to keep a close eye on how much of the money is going out and at what speed,” he said. If the demand for mortgage assistance is lower — many banks and institutions are running proprietary mortgage relief efforts — then PHFA can move some of the mortgage assistance over to the rental assistance fund, said Maretzki.
Landlords and tenants are required to apply jointly to receive rental assistance; payments will be made to landlords on tenants’ behalf.
“We don’t quite know how much of a … barrier that’s going to be to a strong application demand,” said Maretzki.
Nearly a third of Pennsylvanians rent their homes, and according to ZillowGroup, newly unemployed service workers alone owe nearly $40 million in rent. In order to qualify, applicants must prove that they’ve lost at least 30 percent of their income.
Under an executive order from Governor Tom Wolf, evictions have been halted throughout the state through July 10, which may affect early applications for rental assistance. If the moratorium is not renewed, Maretzki said the agency may see a spike in applications.
Applications for the assistance programs will be accepted through September 30th. While mortgage assistance applications will be evaluated by the state agency, those for rent relief will be evaluated by a different organization in each county. In Allegheny County, the Department of Economic Development will administer the program.