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Thousands of Pennsylvania homeowners promised mortgage relief in the pandemic are still waiting

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: 

Homeowners are struggling to get federally-funded mortgage assistance
(0:00 - 9:28)

During the pandemic, homeowners facing financial difficulties were offered some relief through temporarily paused mortgage payments without the risk of foreclosure. Last year, Pennsylvania received $350 million from the federal government to help make up some missed payments. It’s been nearly a year since the launch of this fund, and many homeowners say they have yet to get relief.

This program, the Pennsylvania Homeowner Assistance Fund (PAHAF), is now overwhelmed and struggling to get the information it needs from mortgage companies.

“They have made several changes to streamline the paperwork and make it easier for people,” says Charlotte Keith, investigative reporter with Spotlight PA. “They've also increased that overall cap on the amount of assistance that people can receive, which means that more people are eligible.”

According to Keith’s reporting, a quarter of the funds have been distributed so far. The delays have largely been attributed to issues with case workers struggling to confirm the amount of money an applicant owes to their mortgage company.

Landslides are becoming an increasing threat to Pittsburghers
(9:40 - 22:30)

The wettest year on record for Pittsburgh was 2018, with just under 58 inches of precipitation triggering dozens of landslides in the area. In the past five years there have been hundreds of slides in southwestern Pennsylvania. If climate experts are correct, residents will be facing an increased threat in the near future.

“We can't control the weather, but we can work to optimize the health of our natural infrastructure as a first line of defense against the change in climate,” says Rebecca Kiernan, assistant director of sustainability and resilience with the Department of City Planning. “We can also be thinking about, you know, how do we develop smarter?”

Kiernan says the city has used the Greenways for Pittsburgh program to preserve open space and prevent development in areas that can’t support it, long term.

Quinn Glabicki, environment and climate reporter at PublicSource, says one challenge to homeowners is that home insurance typically doesn’t cover landslides, but a proposed state bill from Allegheny County Reps. Emily Kinkead (D-Brighton Heights) and Valerie Gaydos (R-Sewickley) might remedy this.

“Not only can it be, you know, potentially dangerous for the folks living in the home [to experience a landslide], but it can also, you know, be financially devastating as well,” says Glabicki. “Some landslides cost up to $1,000,000 to fix and without an insurance program to help cover that, you know, people are really left to abandon their properties or really shell out to have that fixed themselves.”

The proposed legislation would expand an existing program from the state Department of Environmental Protection that covers mine subsidence assistance and insurance to include landslides, slope movement and sinkholes.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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