Imagine for a moment living on a fixed income. Senior citizens and disabled individuals – many of whom rely heavily on Social Security – often live on less than $1,500 per month.
Now imagine a sudden disruption in your living arrangements. Your lease is not renewed. Your roommate asks you to move out. A loved one dies, leaving you with 100 percent of the rent due, instead of the accustomed to 50 percent. The rental market is so punishing right now that many people struggle mightily to find units for less than $1,000 per month (two-thirds or more of your total monthly income).
Homelessness and evictions are rising as a result of these market forces and impotent government response. According to Holly Beck of Community Legal Services, some areas of Pennsylvania are experiencing “historic highs in some cases.”
Graphs tell the story:
Credit: Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Delaware County’s eviction rate for last year was 11.5 percent (nearly 12 evictions per 100 renters), while Montgomery County’s was 8 percent. You may be wondering why both rates are higher than Philadelphia’s, one of the poorest cities in America.
Curing the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Philadelphia rolled out an innovative Eviction Diversion Program that kept people housed. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, landlords in Philadelphia are required to participate in the diversion program, which includes mediation, before filing for eviction in court in most cases. The intent is to prevent tenants from receiving an eviction filing, which makes finding future, high-quality housing more difficult. The diversion program also reduces the municipal court’s caseload and connects landlords and tenants with resources. As of earlier this year, 4,000 pairs of landlords and tenants had participated in the program, with nearly 75 percent of them avoiding eviction court.
What can be done to reverse Montgomery County’s trend (and others'):
Introduce our own Eviction Diversion Program. Budget hearings are coming next month before the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.
Expand the EPIC program to help stave off the next wave of evictions by offering free legal advice during evictions.
Expand and turn the county’s Housing Trust Fund into a proactive tool for the development of affordable housing by allocating additional funds and resources through the budgeting process.
We can support three bills State Rep. Izzy Smith-Wade-El (D-Lancaster) is introducing to protect tenants.
Long term, Montco needs to develop a plan to build affordable housing throughout the County, so that those who work and play in our community can afford to live here as well. There is no panacea to help the rent-burdened, who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing – as more than half of Montco renters do - but we must take action.
If you live in Montgomery County and are facing possible eviction, contact Legal Aid as soon as possible.