With $400,000 Award From Commonwealth, City & Legal Aid Groups to Help Seniors & Vulnerable People At Risk of Losing Their Homes
Philadelphia, May 7, 2018 – City and state leaders joined with anti-poverty organizations on Monday to announce new efforts to prevent foreclosures to help economically vulnerable homeowners with past-due property taxes from losing their homes.
Legislation to enhance the Owner-Occupied Payment Agreement (OOPA) program to prevent tax foreclosures was passed by Council on October 5, 2017. The City is now required to offer housing counseling assistance and reasonable installment payment agreements to tax-delinquent homeowners facing financial hardships.
The City has in recent years dramatically increased foreclosure filings: 2016 saw a 1,210-percent increase in tax foreclosure filings over 2010. A City Council analysis found that the majority of tax foreclosure filings against owner-occupied homes were located in low-income communities of color. In many cases, economically vulnerable homeowners count their home as their sole asset of value.
“We successfully mobilized to stop mortgage foreclosures during the housing crisis, which prevented homelessness, displacement, and mass disruption in our communities. However, the City – in a well-intentioned effort to increase revenue collections – became far more aggressive in filing tax foreclosures. Contributing to homelessness or deeper poverty by seizing the homes of people in economic crisis is just not good policy,” Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) said.
“With talks of possible property tax increases that may affect many Philadelphians, I’m excited to announce a tax foreclosure prevention program that will help keep Philadelphia residents in their homes,” Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District) said. “This program gives the City a way to help citizens going through financial hardship enter into fair, manageable tax repayment programs. Now, the City will ensure that taxpayers know about their right to receive free aid including housing counselors and legal assistance, so that residents can find payment plans that work for them. Protecting seniors, individuals with disabilities, and low-income residents is a priority for my office, and I am glad to be part of an initiative that helps ease financial burden for our City’s most vulnerable citizens.”
“Some of the most important work we do as council members is helping provide constituents who are struggling with resources to stay in their homes and improve their situations,” Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) said. “I am proud of the work we’ve done on City Council and with the Administration to prevent housing displacement in our vulnerable communities so far, such as with the LOOP program, but there’s work still to be done. This legislation and grant are an important step forward helping at-risk homeowners get on payment plans to save their homes, as well as providing counseling to help people become first-time homebuyers, a crucial part of building wealth.”
Homeowners who are struggling with past-due property taxes may apply for OOPA assistance by visiting http://beta.phila.gov/oopa, Revenue Commissioner Frank Breslin explained.
“The Department of Revenue has increased on-time Real Estate Tax collections and reduced delinquency to support the School District of Philadelphia and City services. Nearly 70 percent of delinquent properties for which we start the foreclosure process get into a payment agreement or pay in full. We want to ensure vulnerable residents who need help paying their Real Estate Taxes get the help they need before enforcement starts,” Commissioner Breslin said. “We are excited to continue collaboration with City Council, housing advocates, and community groups to provide an effective program that keeps residents in their homes.”
To support the City’s foreclosure prevention efforts, four nonprofit legal and financial counseling providers – Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS), Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA), Clarifi, and Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP) – were granted a $400,000 Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) Fund award by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) to assist seniors dealing with delinquent property taxes.
“The funding being made available from our PHARE program will help hundreds of people in Philadelphia become first-time homebuyers, or stay in their homes if they are already homeowners,” PHFA Executive Director and CEO Brian A. Hudson, Sr., said. “So really the whole city will benefit because we are helping neighborhoods remain vibrant and even gain an economic boost. At the end of the day, when people are better educated about their housing choices, families and communities all come out ahead.”
“I applaud the team effort and everyone who made this initiative happen to protect our seniors,” said Senator J. Vincent Hughes (7th Senatorial District). “It is important that we tailor programs to the needs of those who have contributed to this city, its great history, and its prosperity. Programs like this allow for that prosperity to be spread to all communities across Philadelphia. It is our hope that the success of this program will allow it to expand and to be spread across Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania, because there are families in need in every corner of the state.”
Rep. Donna Bullock (195th Legislative District) added: “It’s so important to maintain the stock of affordable housing in Philadelphia. This funding will contribute to that by helping low-income senior homeowners who want to stay in and maintain their homes. I and my Philadelphia Delegation colleagues are pleased to work with City Council, the PHFA, and community partners to accomplish this.”
Debby Freedman, executive director of CLS, said: “We are extremely grateful to Governor Wolf and PHFA for new funding for legal representation and housing counseling that will save homes for low-income seniors. This important investment will stabilize neighborhoods and preserve family homes for the next generation. PHFA’s grant, in conjunction with outstanding programs created by City Council and Mayor Kenney, will be critical to preventing real estate tax foreclosure in Philadelphia.”
Geographic data on severely burdened homeowners and those facing foreclosure fillings, compiled by the Office of the President, can be viewed and searched here.
Read an overview of the enhancements to the Owner-Occupied Payment Agreement (OOPA) program.
Watch the press conference: