Over the course of two hearings, Council heard testimony from newly-unemployed renters threatened with displacement and illegal lockouts during a pandemic
PHILADELPHIA – Today, City Council’s Committee on Housing, Neighborhoods, and the Homeless voted to approve six out of five bills within the Emergency Housing Protection Act introduced by Councilmembers Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, and Kendra Brooks. The act will now advance to a full vote in Council by June 18. The bills that comprise the EHPA keep Philadelphians safe in their homes during the COVID-19 shutdown and its aftermath, while providing landlords with options to recoup rent without evicting tenants and exacerbating the City’s crisis of homelessness amid a global pandemic. A description of each bill can be found at the bottom of this release, along with the voting results.
Over the course of two hearings, the committee heard testimony from renters, community leaders, and housing experts about the urgent need to pass the package of protections and ensure stability in their communities.
Unemployed renters told stories of living under constant threats from landlords, including attempts to illegally lock out tenants from their homes. A senior citizen explained that she was being forced out by a landlord, but couldn’t find an available home for her family on such short notice. An immigrant who lost her job pled for help while living in an apartment where her landlord physically forced entry against her protests. A formerly homeless and now unemployed renter made an impassioned plea for city government to prevent the coming wave of evictions, displacement, and homelessness.
Philadelphia faces the looming threat of thousands of evictions, with 5,000 evictions already waiting and thousands more expected to be filed once the city’s courts reopen. Over 135,000 Philadelphians have lost work since mid-March, and the newly-unemployed are more likely to be low-wage workers and people of color. The city’s most vulnerable communities are the ones most deeply impacted by COVID-19, and they contain the households at the highest risk of losing their homes once emergency orders and moratoriums are lifted.
Without additional relief, thousands of Philadelphians will be forced to choose between rent, food, and healthcare each month for the foreseeable future – and landlords will be left uncertain if any rent is forthcoming.
“Our package presents a fair solution to protect our most vulnerable neighbors and helps our city’s economy recover without leaving anyone behind,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “Housing stability is crucial to economic stability. If we don’t act, people buried under mountains of debt will lose their homes before they have a chance to rebuild their income – and landlords can’t collect rent from people who are unemployed and homeless.”
“Keeping renters safe in their homes is the simplest, cheapest, and most compassionate way to respond to our city’s mounting housing crisis,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. “The EHPA offers renters time to put their lives back together in the wake of this pandemic, without the constant threat of homelessness hanging over their heads. If we don’t act, our courts will be flooded with eviction cases once the moratorium is lifted, and we will see city services strained like never before.”
“The Emergency Housing Protection Act ensures that renters who have been impacted by the pandemic have the security and stability they need during this uncertain time” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks. “Reliable, affordable housing is not only a public health issue, but a racial justice issue. Our legislation puts in place common-sense guardrails to protect our most marginalized community members from losing their homes in the wake of this unprecedented global health and economic crisis.”
At last week’s hearing, renters, community leaders, and housing experts voiced their support for the proposed housing protections, and told Councilmembers what they stand to lose if the protections don’t pass – their homes, their children, and even their lives.
Aryi Peebles, a renter with pre-existing health conditions and member of One Pennsylvania, spoke of being illegally locked out after their daughter lost her job. They now live without hot water and cooking gas, and threats of eviction continue.
“My daughter and I have pre-existing health conditions. We both have bronchial asthma and we take albuterol 3 times a day using a machine and that was disrupted by our landlord’s actions,” said Aryi Peebles. “We had every intention to pay the rent, but we needed a few more days… I’m concerned about eviction in the coming months. My daughter is still out of work and she has yet to be approved for unemployment.”
“All six bills not only support me, they also support thousands of families across Philadelphia. These bills will help me to feel like I matter – like we matter,” Peebles said.
Maria, an immigrant renter and member of Juntos, lost most of her hours as a domestic worker, and is living under a verbally abusive landlord who forced his way into her home while threatening her with eviction.
“I tried not to argue with him, and tried to close the main door, but he forced himself into my home,” said Maria. “I ran further into my home and tried to close the second interior door but he ran after me, and I was not strong enough to close the door and he entered my home without a mask… He would not leave until the police arrived. This is the first time I am sharing my story publicly, because I know I’m not the only person experiencing this.”
“Low-income renters, particularly Black renters, are being forced to risk their lives for the sake of their livelihoods, and it is these same renters who are most at risk for imminent eviction when the courts re-open,” said Tiffany McAnany, a housing attorney with Community Legal Services. “Together, these bills help landlords and renters work to resolve issues to keep people safe, prevent mass evictions and ensure that landlords are able to recoup lost rent due to the pandemic. Without the protections provided in these bills, thousands of people, who are already in vulnerable situations, will be pushed into homelessness.”
Sonam Parikh is a first generation immigrant and small business owner, whose father died of COVID and whose mother is fighting against the virus. Parikh’s income has been devastated, and she struggles under the threat of eviction from her home while trying to find help for her out-of-work employees.
“A week ago, I thought my life was hard, dealing with death, taking care of my mother, and fighting tooth and nail for funding for my staff,” said Sonam Parikh. “Today, I stand before you and say, my life feels unsolvable. I don’t know that I have many options. I don’t have somebody I can call to help me pay rent. I don’t have my dad to give me advice. I just have my community, and my Council members, who I urge strongly to consider the hundreds of thousands of lives that could be impacted by these desperately-needed housing protections.”
“By passing the Emergency Housing Protection Act, you can help parents keep their kids safe. You can help my incredible employees stay housed and healthy until this global atrocity is over,” Parikh said.
Victoria Lambert is a formerly homeless renter who lives with her son, and they both lost their jobs when the pandemic hit Philadelphia. Under the threat of eviction, but unsure when she will find new work in a service industry that will be slow to reopen, she fears that she may soon be homeless once again.
“I want to pay my landlord what I owe, but I need time for businesses to reopen so my son and I can go back to work,” said Victoria Lambert, a West Philadelphia renter. “We need an eviction moratorium and an eviction diversion program so that tenants like me can have a chance to solve things outside of a courtroom. I am worried about my safety if I have to go to court, or if I lose my home with nowhere to go.”
“I have been homeless before. I was working the whole time. It was terrible. I can’t be homeless again at my age, especially with the pandemic. Seniors and vulnerable people like me need these laws to pass,” Lambert said.
“Much like Philadelphia residents, our small businesses have been asking for rental relief,” said Rue Landau Executive Director of the Fair Housing Commission. “These businesses have been hit hard, with many owners unable to obtain loans or grants needed to weather through this crisis. In the past two months, the Commission has received many calls from tenants fearful of eviction because they are unable to pay their rent. And, tenant advocates have reported to us that some landlords are threatening to illegally lock out tenants for non-payment.”
Jacqueline Leck, a senior who lives with her husband, their son and three grandchildren. Leck’s landlord will not accept May’s rent, trying to force the family out. Leck pled for more time, since they’ve been unable to find an open home amid a pandemic, but her landlord refused.
“Me and my husband have money to move but we can’t find anything,” said Jacqueline Leck, a renter and client of Senior Law Center. “Once the city is opened up, people need time to go back to work and start finding places to move. People like me and my husband are especially vulnerable to this virus. We are seniors and our families need your help. This crisis is far from over.”
Monique Atkinson, a renter in Germantown, has been threatened and insulted by a landlord attempting to intimidate her into leaving, while raising rent on her neighbors.
“Protections like a repayment plan, an extended moratorium, and a limit on late fees are crucial for keeping me and hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians in our homes,” said Monique Atkinson, a renter in Germantown. “We demand safeguards against us from landlords that would intimidate you to pay money that cannot be produced, during a pandemic that we did not cause.”
“Many families have been unable to pay rent and fear being evicted once the emergency order is lifted,” said Marianne Fray, CEO of the Maternity Care Coalition. “Housing-insecurity and homelessness place children at greater risk for exposure to adverse childhood experiences, which can negatively impact a child’s lifelong health and achievement. Conversely, when a family has safe housing, and their basic needs are met, parents and caregivers are in a place where they can work on goals like parenting, furthering their education and career, and building a support network.”
“We are likely to see a rise in eviction filings for non-payment of rent, and the evolving body of research across the country shows evictions have significant multi-dimensional and long-lasting negative impacts on households and also on the communities in which these tenants live,” said Emily Dowdall, Policy Director for the Reinvestment Fund’s Policy Solutions Group. “In Philadelphia, our research shows that these adverse impacts will fall heavily on Philadelphia’s Black and Latinx neighborhoods.”
The bills that comprise the EHPA include:
Bill No. 200295 was advanced unanimously: Extend the eviction moratorium for 60 days after the state of emergency order is lifted for residential renters as well as small businesses, with an exception where there is risk of immediate harm; introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym.
Bill No. 200305 was advanced unanimously: Allow renters with financial hardships to pay rent over an extended period using a year-long repayment plan; introduced by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier.
Bill No. 200294 was advanced unanimously: Create an eviction diversion program that runs through December 31 2020, requiring both landlords and renters to participate in a mediation process designed to help resolve issues before they lead to formal evictions; introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym.
Bill No. 200302 was advanced unanimously: Waive late fees on rent during the pandemic and for two months afterwards, which is retroactive to March 1, 2020 for those experiencing financial hardship related to the pandemic; introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks.
Bill No. 200304 was advanced unanimously: Allow renters who are illegally locked out to recover damages caused by the illegal lockout; introduced by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier.
Bill No. 200301 was voted down 4-3: Stabilize rents during the pandemic and for a year afterwards, during which landlords would be limited from increasing rents, retroactive to March 1, 2020 for those experiencing financial hardship related to the pandemic; introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks.
Resolution No. 200308, previously approved: Call on the PA General Assembly and the US Congress to provide municipalities a comprehensive relief package to stabilize the local rental housing market and assist property owners, including large-scale rent subsidies for landlords to make up for lost revenue.