Rowhouses in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood.

COUNCILMEMBERS GYM, BROOKS, GAUTHIER, AND JOHNSON CALL TO SUSPEND RENT AND MORTGAGE PAYMENTS FOR THOSE IN NEED DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC

In Council News, Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, Kendra Brooks, Kenyatta Johnson, News by PHL Council

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Philadelphia Councilmembers join national call with leaders from Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle

Philadelphia—Today, as rent comes due, Councilmembers Helen Gym (At-Large), Kendra Brooks (At-Large), Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), and Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) called for immediate action to protect renters and homeowners during the COVID-19 pandemic. They called upon state and federal authorities to suspend rent and mortgage payments for those who cannot afford to pay, as part of a national effort by elected officials around the country from cities struggling under mandatory stay-at-home orders including Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle.

Additionally, they called for the local courts to extend their moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for at least two months past the duration of the emergency, and for the creation of a comprehensive diversion program at the city level that would provide financial relief and protections for both renters and homeowners, as well as support for landlords, after the emergency is lifted.

Last month, Philadelphia Councilmembers led a call to issue a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, tax liens, and utility shut-offs, which was widely embraced by the Sheriff’s Office, the City of Philadelphia and the courts. The courts’ moratorium was scheduled to expire on April 3rd, and was extended today to April 30th.

“April 1 is a terrifying day for many renters and homeowners. We are united around the call to take action at the local, state and national level to protect hundreds of thousands of our residents so they can follow the ‘stay-at-home’ orders without fear of losing the roof over their heads,” said Councilmember Helen Gym.

“We need state and federal officials to suspend rent and mortgage payments so we can assure people that we have time to figure out solutions that will help them recover from this crisis and to make people whole so they don’t face mountains of debt afterward. We know how to do this: Philadelphia led the nation in creating a successful foreclosure diversion program during the Great Recession, and we can rise to meet this moment again now with smart and effective policies.”

“The COVID-19 crisis is sending shockwaves through our economy – and it’s leaving the most vulnerable members of our society exposed to even more harm,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. “Half of my constituents were cost-burdened by rent before this virus was even on our radar; the impact this will have on them is unthinkable. Freezing evictions was a good start, but we urgently need the state and federal governments to enact rent and mortgage moratoriums to ensure that this health crisis doesn’t lead to financial ruin in our communities.”

“Recently, we’ve seen ample discussion around mortgage relief at the federal level, but little to no attention being paid to the immediate needs of renters,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks. “A majority of Philadelphia residents, including myself, rent their homes. For many parents, paying rent means jeopardizing their ability to care for their families. This crisis is demonstrating what organizers have been saying for years—that housing is a human right.”

“As we urge Philadelphians to stay home during this pandemic, we must ensure that they have homes to stay in,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. “Stable housing is more crucial than ever to our community’s health and well-being. Philadelphia and the entire United States is in the midst of a pandemic that will affect this nation for months and years to come. Our federal, state and local governments must do everything possible to help our citizens get through these difficult times. I join my colleagues on Council and across the nation in calling for relief for renters and mortgage holders.”

Economists around the country are warning of recession or a second great depression if steps aren’t taken to mitigate the harm caused by the pandemic. Representatives of the Federal Reserve are predicting that the unemployment rate during the pandemic could reach as high as 30 percent, higher than even the 1933 peak of 25 percent during the Great Depression.

Pennsylvania has been one of the states hardest hit by stay-at-home orders which have been necessary for the public health; more than a half million Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment in March. Those numbers do not include many workers who do not qualify for federal unemployment benefits or who are afraid to apply for them based on the government’s recent ruling that would deny citizenship to certain groups of legal immigrants who sought benefits.

Recent studies reported that 40 percent of Americans do not have cash on hand to cover an unexpected expense of $400, and 78 percent of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck. Without further action, renters and property owners would still be on the hook for any back payments when Philadelphia’s moratorium on evictions and mortgage foreclosures expires.

In addition to their pledge to take action at the city level, the Councilmembers are calling on the Governor and state legislature to work with Congress and the federal administration to stop their residents from becoming crippled by debt due to the pandemic. They join local renter advocates who have released a platform of proposals to help keep people housed, and area landlord associations who have urged their members to avoid evictions during this historic crisis.

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