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With many people still suffering from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the Philadelphia City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a package of bills aimed at helping renters facing eviction.
Among the five bills in the Emergency Housing Protection Act are provisions that extend the city’s moratorium on evictions for residential renters and small businesses until Aug. 31, as well as waive late fees during the pandemic and provide a repayment plan for people who have missed rent payments.
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“The EHPA offers renters time to put their lives back together in the wake of this pandemic, without the constant threat of homelessness hanging over their heads. If we don’t act, our courts will be flooded with eviction cases once the moratorium is lifted, and we will see city services strained like never before,” said Council member Jamie Gauthier, who introduced the legislation along with fellow members Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks.
The moratorium on evictions has been in place since the city first locked down back in March due to the threat of COVID-19. However, that has not stopped some landlords from illegally evicting people by shutting off utilities or locking them out of their homes.
Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, said some landlords have even threatened to call federal immigration officials on renters if they don’t vacate their property.
There is also the looming problem of legal evictions.
When municipal court reopens, Philadelphia faces the possibility of more than 5,000 evictions, according to a news release by the City Council. That problem has been exacerbated due to more than 135,000 people – largely minorities and low-income residents – having lost work since mid-March.
The latest emergency protections seek to ease the burden on both renters and landlords by encouraging cooperation between the parties.
Included in the package of bills is a nine-month repayment plan for renters facing financial hardships due to COVID-19. The city is also creating an eviction diversion program through Dec. 31, which requires renters and landlords to take part in a mediation process aimed at resolving issues before formal eviction proceedings begin.
“The Emergency Housing Protection Act ensures that renters who have been impacted by the pandemic have the security and stability they need during this uncertain time” Brooks said. “Reliable, affordable housing is not only a public health issue, but a racial justice issue. Our legislation puts in place common-sense guardrails to protect our most marginalized community members from losing their homes in the wake of this unprecedented global health and economic crisis.”