Update: Since publishing this story, a federal moratorium on evictions has been put into place.
WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Last Monday, Pennsylvania’s moratorium on evictions expired, causing concern throughout Pennsylvania that a spike in homelessness is imminent. Local housing officials share this concern; since March, they’ve been seeing how the COVID-19 pandemic has increased housing insecurity in Wayne County.
Heather Miszler, director of the local housing department, said that her caseworkers’ caseloads have doubled during the pandemic. When her team is all out of housing options for a homeless individual, the last-ditch effort is to put them up in a hotel until an alternative is available. Since March, Miszler said they’ve placed 18 individuals in a hotel—much higher than usual—nine of them still have nowhere else to go.
Human services deputy administrator Lori O’Malley expects the situation to look even more dire now that the moratorium has been lifted. She cited data from the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, which found that about 394,000 of the state’s renters did not pay last month’s rent. Close to the same number have no confidence that they’ll be able to pay next it next month. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that 25 percent of renters are at risk of eviction in PA.
The governor’s moratorium on evictions was originally set to expire in July, but facing great pressure from housing advocates, extended it until August 31. Wolf has since said that he is legally unable to extend it any further, passing the buck to the PA General Assembly to “act immediately and prevent evictions and foreclosures.”
In Wayne County, the problem is not that the housing department can’t afford to help people find housing or assist them financially. They can. Miszler has secured CARES Act funding to address homelessness, prevent homelessness and provide emergency shelter. The problem, instead, is that there just aren’t many places for people to go.
“We have a lot of funding to assist families with rapid rehousing—meaning getting them into a new apartment, maybe helping them with some security deposits, paying their rent until they can get on their feet,” O’Malley said. “But we just don’t have the availability of housing stock.”
This lack of housing makes homelessness prevention all the more important for Wayne County. Miszler and O’Malley stressed that renters should apply for the CARES Act Rent Relief program. To be eligible, renters must have documentation to show a 30-percent reduction in annual household income since March 1 related to COVID-19. Renters who became unemployed must have applied for unemployment compensation. A household’s income also cannot exceed the area median income, adjusted for the number living in a household. This ranges from $48,300 for a single-resident household to $91,100 for an eight-resident household.
If approved, the county will help pay 100 percent of a household’s monthly rent payments at a maximum of $750 per month. The assistance will last for up to six months, until December 30, as long as the renter’s 30-percent reduction in income is maintained throughout that entire time. Tenants and landlords must apply together.
O’Malley said that those interested in the program should call the housing department at 570/253-6758 and ask for Heather Miszler, stressing that the deadline is Wednesday, September 30 and that residents should apply soon.
Those experiencing a housing crisis should call the phone number 211. Once an individual is referred to the housing department, a case worker assesses their housing situation and provides assistance.
“Our housing department provides case management services to individuals and families who are struggling and we help them develop a housing-stabilization plan to assist them in working toward attaining and maintaining permanent housing,” Miszler said. “We don’t just provide financial assistance, we provide them with the tools they need to maintain that housing.”