PITTSBURGH — In the last stimulus package, Pennsylvania got $175 million for rent relief, but only about one-third of that was actually given out to renters in need. There were $108 million that went unused.
This time, legal advocates say the state has to do a better job of getting that money into the hands of people who need it.
“It’s about as desperate as it can get. It would be akin to the mortgage foreclosure crisis of 2008/2009, except it applies to renters and their landlords,” Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services Director Brian Gorman said.
A big part of the problem is how complicated the application process is.
Kevin Waugaman, a renter facing eviction who is unemployed from the restaurant industry, said he tried to apply for rent relief but found it impossible to figure out.
“The housing authority sent me two packets that I don’t even know the answer to half the questions, so … don’t understand half the words on the questions,” Waugaman said.
Gorman said Waugaman is not alone.
“There are counties where 40% of rental applicants had incomplete applications and, therefore, couldn’t access rent relief,” Gorman said.
Gorman said legal aid can help with the application process. It starts with renters signing a declaration to make sure they meet three criteria:
- Make less than $100,000 a year
- Would not have permanent housing if evicted
- Try to pay what they can
“Through the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, with our partners in both legal services and social services, we can help people,” Gorman said.
Another problem has been the program requires landlords to be co-applicants, and many have been hesitant because the cut-off for aid was $750 a month.
“In many parts of Pennsylvania, that’s not the median rent, so certain landlords were not interested in participating in the program,” Gorman said.
Many legal advocates say the state should consider increasing that amount.
“My biggest fear is if we don’t correct upon what we need to correct upon, we’re just delaying an inevitable eviction crisis,” Gorman said.
In the last round of rent relief money, that leftover $108 million was reallocated to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Legal advocates say they want to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and urge renters to contact the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network for help to apply again.
- Comprehensive list of local resources for families facing eviction
- For Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Lawrence counties: Neighborhood Legal Services
- For Washington, Green, Fayette and Somerset counties: Southwestern PA Legal Services
- Statewide: Community Justice Project
- Statewide: Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network
- Finding all resources for your zip code: United Way
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