August 31, 2020
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf confirmed that he will not extend the state's moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, set to expire Monday night, citing legal constraints that prevent him from acting without legislative approval.
On July 9, Wolf extended his original executive order until the end of August, hoping to buy residents more time before a rush on the courts to initiate evictions and foreclosures, which have been stalled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor's office said Monday that it tried to work out a state extension based on the national moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, which does not protect all groups of renters and home owners.
Officials told the Associated Press that a "legislative fix" is necessary for any additional extension.
Wolf had called on the General Assembly last week to extend the moratorium and fix certain defects in Act 24, a program that helps renters and homeowners.
Democrats in the state House of Representatives issued a statement on Monday afternoon calling for a package of bills to be passed that would grant Wolf the ability to extend the moratorium.
Separate bills in the "Safe at Home" package would expand financial assistance, create payment plans for renters, and establish a landlord-tenant mediation program to head off avoidable evictions, among other measures.
“The moratorium is ending, but the virus certainly is not. We will not stand by and watch tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians be pushed out of their homes," the House Democratic Housing Working Group said in a statement. "The health and economic consequences of the pandemic continue, and with winter just around the corner we are doubly committed to keeping people in their homes."
Lawmakers said that while the federal governments protections have been inadequate, they are encouraged a resolution can be reached with Republicans.
"Mass foreclosures and evictions would be bad for Pennsylvania: our families and our economy," the House Democrats continued. "We are confident the Republican majority in the House sees the crisis as clearly as we do, and we call on Speaker Cutler to join us and expedite consideration of the following bills to keep people Safe At Home.”
As many as one in five Pennsylvania adults either missed a rent or mortgage in July or said that they had "slight or no confidence" they could meet their rent or mortgage obligations in August, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey.
Many renters and home owners have been supported by financial assistance programs, but those may not be enough to prevent a tide of evictions and foreclosures if the moratorium expires without any other protections in place.
In Philadelphia, City Council members Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier and Kendra Brooks called on Harrisburg to extend the moratorium.
“With 381,000 Pennsylvanias behind on rent in July, the expiration of the state’s eviction moratorium could mean a massive wave of evictions leading to homelessness for many,” Gym said. “This is a matter of life and death. City Council is not in session for a few more weeks, but the state can and must act now. If the moratorium is not extended, mass evictions will reflect a conscious choice."
Gauthier added that at least 11 states have moratoriums that extend beyond Pennsylvania's.
“We have programs which could be a national model – like a pre-filing Emergency Eviction Diversion Program, which will provide housing counseling services and even rent subsidies upon its launch in September. We established payment plans and other protections, but we need more time – and we need the state to prioritize housing stability.”
The state House of Representatives will return to voting session on Tuesday, while the Senate was scheduled to return next week. Talks about a possible extension of the moratorium are expected to continue this week.