Report: Pandemic worsened Pennsylvania’s affordable rental housing crisis

© Shutterstock

A new report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has found that the affordable rental housing problem Pennsylvania faced prior to the pandemic is only worse now.

The report looked at who Pennsylvania renters are, who was burdened by housing costs prior to the pandemic, and who is at risk of eviction now. It found that financial programs to help renters worked, but more needs to be done.

“The two main takeaways are that eviction mitigation is working to keep people in their homes, and it should be expanded, and a permanent rental assistance fund is needed in the state for the large numbers of cost-burdened families in Pennsylvania,” said Kehinde Akande, policy fellow at the PA Budget and Policy Center and the report’s author.

Advocates said many community-based organizations worked with residents through the pandemic to help them get rental assistance. They said they hope the legislature will expand those efforts as people continue to struggle.

“As the single parent of a child with serious illness, I’ve been forced to choose between work and family, food and rent, with no support. As an immigrant woman, I can’t receive any of the basic benefits like food stamps or WIC, and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program was designed to support struggling families like mine,” said Celia Mocada, member leader of Make the Road Pennsylvania. “But the requirement for landlords to participate in the application process prevented us from being considered for the aid we really need to cover our rent. A permanent, more accessible rent relief program and eviction moratorium will help more struggling families like me avoid eviction and homeless.”

The report found that renters in the state make up about a third of the state’s population but tend to have lower incomes than homeowners. Renters have a median income of nearly $38,000, compared to more than $67,000 for homeowners.

The report recommended pursuing changes in the legal system, including educating eviction judges about COVID-19’s impact on renters and resources. Additionally, the report recommended agencies improve their outreach by helping families and individuals fill out applications for assistance and attaching applications to eviction hearing notices. The report also recommended a request be made for reallocating unused American Rescue Plan funds to cities and communities that received less than a “fair” share of the funds so those areas could supplement Emergency Rental Assistance funds.

In the long-term, the report advocated a fund for universal “Right to Counsel” programs for renters and legislative solutions to end evictions without “good cause” and sealing eviction records to protect tenants from being refused future housing. The report advocated funding a long-term Emergency Rental Assistance Program and making more funds available to increase affordable housing development.

“As the pandemic swept across our country and our systems began to buckle under the enormity of the need, eviction diversion and rental assistance were lights guiding us toward a world in which government was operating as it should: creating a safety net capable of catching our people when we needed it the most,” said Pennsylvania Sen. Nikil Saval (D-1st District). “I’m incredibly grateful for the work of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center in so thoroughly examining the quantitative and qualitative data that support these solutions to the ongoing harm wrought by COVID-19 and by our current housing crisis, which predates the pandemic and is decades in the making.”